I’ve never liked the term “nursing assistant”. Some places call them PCT (Patient Care Techs). That makes a little more sense. While CNA’s have certainly “assisted” me with wound care, blood draws, and catheterizations, they are so much more than a “nurse’s assistant”. CNA’s are the heart of nursing. CNA’s are really the original nurses. Before medications and paperwork came the old school one-on-one just plain old taking care of sick people. If you want to know what your loved one ate today or whether or not they’re feeling good, ask their CNA. There is no closer a relationship than that of a patient and their regular aid.
The nurse brings the patient meds. We assess them. We talk for them as long as we can before having to abruptly move on to the next of our twenty six patients. We love them, but like a mom who has to go to work, we have to keep going. We have paperwork to finish and we have to chart on that stomach ache Mrs. X spent thirty minutes describing to us. CNA’s are the ones who provide the one-on-one daily care. They are the ones who bathe patients and change them and are able to carry on important conversations in the process.
I am by no means belittling the role of nurses. Obviously, nurses are important, but even a nurse gets to sit down and chart. Charting isn’t fun, but it is a chance to get off of our feet for a little while. CNA’s are quite often scolded for sitting down. Sitting down is simply not in their job description. Except for a thirty minute lunch break, CNA’s are quite literally on their feet for the entire shift. At my facility, even their charting is done on computers that hang on the walls of the hallway. So, while they may at least be able to stand still for a moment, they’re still on their feet.
The most frustrating thing about being a CNA comes from my own experience filling in as an aid one night when we had some call outs. I was excited for the opportunity to walk a shift in their shoes. I had it all planned out. I went to each resident’s room in order. I changed them, turned them, and asked if they needed anything. As I finished my first full rotation, three call lights came on. I couldn’t answer them all at once, so I went in order to each room. The first room was angry at me because I didn’t arrive immediately. Well, I was assisting another resident, so I couldn’t have possibly come immediately. I apologized and assisted the patient. The next light happened to be very understanding with me because she’s an angel from Heaven, but the third was furious. She even said I was lazy and that I am not allowed to leave the hall. I can’t say I blame her. She had to wait “in line” behind three other patients I was assisting, but you can imagine the frustration one feels when working their butts off and then being told they’re not doing anything.
This was just a one time thing. At the end of only one shift being a CNA, I was totally exhausted. While I had many sweet, grateful patients, it only takes a couple of angry people who think I do a terrible job to ruin my day. I have a lot of friends who are CNA’s. There are two purposeful reasons for that. 1. I like to be friends with everyone I work with and 2. A good CNA can turn an awful shift into an awesome one. If you don’t have the respect of your CNA, your life is going to get pretty bad, pretty quick.
In nursing school clinicals, students are thrown to the mercy of the CNA’s. I learned everything about patient care from CNA’s. Not one nurse even spoke to me my first clinical rotation. I’m not kidding. CNA’s taught me everything I know about patient care. CNA’s are the ones who alert the nurses to abnormal behaviors in their patients. They know them so well and nurses count on them to report problems. I’ve sent a patient to the ER for “acting weird” before because I trusted the CNA’s judgement. The EMT’s looked at me like I was nuts, but the doctor trusted my judgement and I trusted the aid’s, so I insisted they take him. Not a vital sign off, but when he got to the ER, he coded.
There are a few Negative Nancy’s in the bunch, but what amazes me is the veteran CNA’s who stick around for years, even decades. To come to work every day and get verbally abused with limited pay and keep a smile on your face in an incredible feat. I respect these (mostly) women so much more than they will ever know. It takes a strong person with a big heart to stick with this profession. Nurses, if you’ve never filled in a shift for a CNA, I highly recommend it. Then, maybe you’ll understand why they really aren’t our assistants. They’re our lifelines, and we need them.