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Lailani Dorupa, General Manager

In her teens, the Bupa Echuca General Manager was determined to be a jet fighter pilot. That career didn’t get off the ground, but these days she’s flying high in aged care.

Lailani and residents

Bupa Echuca’s bubbly General Manager Lailani Rose Dorupa is uncharacteristically quiet and downbeat when she arrives for our chat.

“One of our residents passed away unexpectedly,” she explains. “It’s the most challenging part of being a General Manager.”

It was another sudden and untimely death - that of her dad, aged just 50 - that inspired Lailani’s eventual move into aged care.

“I wasn’t able to be there to take care of him. The feeling that I’d failed him was a heavy burden. I think that solidified my passion to take care of people. So now every time someone comes through those doors [of the care home], that’s like my Dad coming in.”

Lailani’s come a long way from her birthplace in the Philippines, where as a teenager she aspired to become a fighter pilot. “All the other girls had posters of pop stars on their walls,” she remembers. “I had posters of warplanes.”

She applied to enlist at the local military air base but was turned down due to a problem with heights. She was too short.

Instead, she initially studied mechanical engineering and then shifted to an aeronautical engineering course in her younger years, before ending up in a nursing course. Or, “From nuts and bolts to blood and bones,” as Lailani puts it.

In the Philippines back then, there were so many nurses graduating around 2010 that those who found jobs either paid the employer in exchange for the experience, or worked for free. “Even once we were earning a salary, if you dropped and broke a vial of antibiotics, you had to pay for it – that was more than a fortnight’s wages!”

After moving to Australia and completing a bridging program at Latrobe University, Lailani scored a job interview at the 120-bed Bupa Echuca, which was brand new and recruiting. Leaving her home in Melbourne’s outer east at 4am, she caught two trains and a bus to Echuca, travelling six hours to arrive in time for a 15-minute interview. The convenience of a Teams call was still years away!

After the interview, Lailani had only made it as far as the bus stop when the then-General Manager called and offered her a nursing position. Since then, she’s progressed to After Hours Manager, Clinical Care Manager, and then to General Manager in 2021.

At first Lailani found it difficult seeing the elderly living in care, rather than with their extended families, as was the norm in her homeland. But now she says she finds deep satisfaction in every day and every resident.

“I love knowing their history, and when you start becoming a part of their lives - when your day-to-day becomes woven into their lives and their families’ lives. And I love knowing I have this great opportunity to touch this person’s life, whether it’s for a short or a long period of time, I can make a difference.

One way of doing this is through impromptu conversations over a cup of coffee or a meal. For me, the best food is not about having the finest or most expensive ingredients. What makes food the best is nostalgia. It is the accompanying memories as our residents bite into a piece of bread or as they taste their meals and they start talking about how a lamb’s fry should be cooked - or a resident telling me off for not eating my vegetables when I share their table at lunch!”

Lalani Dorupa GM at Bupa Aged Care Echuca

Lailani is convinced that working in aged care is a calling, not just a job, and she looks for team members with commitment.

“You either love what you do, or you don’t – and either way, it shows. When I interview people for a role, I tell them that I need them rowing in the same direction as the rest of the team and me, because we have a long way to go - and we need the right people in the boat.”

“It’s not just about giving someone a shower, or making sure they’re dressed. It’s about making an impact on their lives. For the team members, what gives you fulfilment is that feeling of being needed, of knowing you’re making a difference. It’s an honour and a privilege to care for the elderly.”

Lailani believes Bupa Echuca has grown and improved as a care home in recent years because of the calibre of her team members.

“I have an amazing team. We’re all cogs in a wheel, and the wheel doesn’t work when a cog is missing or broken. No one is more important than anyone else – we all have to do our jobs to make this place work. And they need to know how important and how valued they are.”

“My team has direct access to me, they have my number, my door is always open. This is very important because when they have challenges, it’s not just the residents who need someone to talk to. The team members need to know they have someone who will listen and not judge.

Lailani Dorupa

“You take care of your people, you nourish your people, because if you have happy people working for Bupa Aged Care, it immediately translates to the quality of care.”“But it’s a two-way street. The past couple of weeks have been especially challenging for me, and my team understood that - last week, they gave me flowers. It was their way of telling me, Lailani, we have your back.”

Lailani believes there are boundless possibilities in aged care - and she has big plans.

“I want to make aged care sexy – for younger people, to make them understand the career possibilities. With Bupa, there’s always room for movement, there’s always room for growth and my professional journey with Bupa is proof of that.”

And what advice would she offer to someone reading this, who’d like to emulate Lailani’s career path?

“Follow your passion. If that’s about taking care of people, then that’s what you do. If you find there’s an opportunity for you to grow, which means there’s an opportunity for you to make a wider positive change for people, then that is what you should do. And don’t be afraid of the challenges.”

If you're interested in a challenging and rewarding role like Lailani's, check out our latest jobs. 

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