From dirty work to meaningful work : a Photovoice study of residential aged care in Hong Kong


Research output: Journal PublicationsConference Abstractpeer-review


Introduction: Caregiving work in ‘residential care homes for the elderly’ (RCHEs) has long been devalued as ‘dirty work’, which contributes to RCHE’s acute shortages of health care staff in Hong Kong. This study aims to unearth the voice of the RCHEs workers by delineating their insider perspectives of RCHE work.

Method: Adopting the Photovoice method, a participatory methodology, 30 RCHEs care workers (i.e. Registered Nurses, Enrolled Nurses, Health Workers, and Personal Care Workers) were invited to take photos that showcase their perspectives of doing aged care work. Two in-depth interviews were conducted with each research participant before and after the photo-taking procedure. Thematic analysis is then conducted to analyse the visual and verbal data.

Results: Findings show that RCHEs care workers perceive and revitalize the nature and meaning of their work in four ways: conducting ‘dirty tasks’ to help the elderly; valuing and engaging in long-term relationships; learning in work; and cultural meaning of working with the elderly. Contrary to public devaluation, RCHE care workers normalize the delivery of ‘dirty tasks’ (i.e. handling human excreta and wounds) as being helpful to both the elderly and the family members. Besides the routine caring tasks on paper, care workers highlight that they spend a lot of unrecognized labor to build rapport and provide emotional support to the elderly and their family members in their work. They also report that learning and self-development are an important part of residential care work, both in terms of professional knowledge and personal growth. Taking care of the elderly also conveys positive cultural meanings in Chinese society.

Conclusion: Policy, professional and educational initiatives of geriatric care primarily emphasize the delivery of clinical tasks (caring for), while undermining the emotional and relational aspects of aged care work.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberafac126.020
Pages (from-to)ii8
JournalAge and Ageing
Issue numberSupplement 2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes
EventBritish Geriatrics Society (BGS) Spring Meeting 2022 -
Duration: 6 Apr 20228 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

The work described in this paper was fully supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (UGC/FDS16/M12/20).


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