Following his calling to care for the elderly
It’s the early 2000s and Dayolen Kistnen is a teenager residing in his homeland Mauritius, an isolated island-nation that is famed for its palm-fringed beaches. He lives in a multi-generational household – the norm in Mauritian society – and his auntie has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“In Mauritius, when an elder is unwell, we look after them at home because [residential] aged care isn’t really a thing there,” says Dayolen, who was 15 at the time.
“When my dad’s sister became very ill, it came naturally to me to nurse her, to look after her. It was quite a delicate situation, where sometimes she was vomiting and delirious, and I remember making it my job to take care of her, to hold her hair back and wipe her face, and just to be with her.”
It was then, as a tender teenager, that Dayolen realised he wanted to become a nurse.
“The thing is, I was very young,” he says. “I told my parents I could see myself being a nurse one day and they were open to the idea, but back there, it’s not something that has great social status.”
It wasn’t until he moved to Melbourne as a 22-year-old that Dayolen had the opportunity to act on his long-standing passion for nursing.
A new home
The early years in Australia were hard going for Dayolen Kistnen.
Separated from his family and living in the quiet outer suburbs of Melbourne, he felt lonely and isolated and struggled with money.
“Those first few years were tough,” he says. “In Mauritius, because my family has an Indian background, we celebrated festivals like Diwali in the same way that Australians celebrate Christmas. It just felt like I was so far away from my loved ones.”
Things started looking up in early 2014, when he scored a job with an agency as an enrolled nurse.
Dayolen has vivid memories of his first shift in a Melbourne hospital. Like many new nurses, he had the jitters, checking things twice and three times to ensure he didn’t make a mistake.
“Suddenly you’re in a position where people are at their most vulnerable, and they’re relying on you to care for them,” he says.
“The nurse-in-charge saw that I was nervous and she gave me a lot of support, and that’s what I’ve found, that in nursing, people are always ready to help. That’s just the caring nature of nurses.”
That year, he enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing at ACU’s Melbourne Campus, so he could further develop his skills and become a registered nurse.
Dayolen loved spending time in Melbourne’s cultural heartland and says he felt “part-Mauritian, part-Melburnian” at the time. He travelled by tram and embraced the city’s coffee culture, and he was right at home in his adopted country.
“It was a busy life because I was working and studying and socialising, but it was a fun life, too.”
In the penultimate year of his bachelor’s degree, Dayolen opted to do his final placement in an emergency department (ED), which he loved. But he still felt compelled to try other types of nursing.
“The thing that was missing in ED was that continued contact with the patient,” he says. “Before you know it, the patient is transferred to a different ward or they’re discharged. For me, too often it felt like you didn’t know if you’d really made a difference.”
Dayolen soon found his true “calling” in aged care, where “the nurse’s ongoing connection with the resident is crucial”.
In 2018, he graduated with a Master of Clinical Nursing at ACU, which led him to take on several managerial roles in the aged care sector.
“Even in management, I think that being good at your job comes back to having a caring nature,” he says. “It’s about being able to connect with people and having a sense of closeness and empathy towards others that really makes a huge difference.”
A dream to lead
It’s early 2022 and Dayolen Kistnen is the facility manager of mecwacare’s O’Mara House in Traralgon, a city in the Gippsland region of Victoria.
He has just got home from work during an unusually busy time. With the Omicron variant spreading across the nation, Dayolen has been pitching in on the floor, to ensure everything is done to keep his residents safe.
Dayolen at his graduation in 2018.
“It’s a bit intense at the moment,” he says with a smile and a sigh. “We’ve got no cases in the facility and we’re doing all we can to keep it that way. It’s complex and you have to be meticulous and to think outside the box, but I really love my job.”
Dayolen’s style of empathetic leadership is a good fit at mecwacare, with the company’s CEO, Michele Lewis, saying he “embodies the mecwacare spirit”.
“With his caring, giving nature and strong leadership skills, [Dayolen] is an excellent guardian of our aged care home in Traralgon,” she says.
In the past decade, a lot of things have changed for this Mauritian migrant. He’s found a true home in Australia, with a career and a community and many cherished friends.
Since late 2021, Dayolen has been collaborating with his old ACU lecturer, Ashton Kline, in a partnership to provide placements to nursing undergraduates.
He’s also back at study, pursuing his MBA with an eye on his future goal to become a CEO in the aged care sector.
“That’s where I want to be someday,” he says. “And when I’m in that position, I want to be the best as well, so I continue to support and care for people, wherever I am.”
But although he’s come a long way, Dayolen hasn’t forgotten his roots. He maintains a strong connection with his Mauritian homeland, and with his Indian heritage. And he still remembers the time he spent with his auntie, caring for her when she was at her most vulnerable.
“Sometimes those memories do come back,” he says. “If she were alive, and she had a chance to see what I was doing with my life, I think she would be proud. Definitely, she would be very, very proud.”
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