By Julie Helling, BSN, RN, RAC-CT
Last May, I received a text message on my phone from a number I didn’t recognize. The message which appeared, however, was so unexpected and brought me such joy that not only did I save the message – I look at it from time to time when I need a bright spot. The message read, “Hi there! I just wanted to let you know that I am graduating tomorrow from Blessing Riemann with my BSN/RN and Sigma Theta Tau Pi Pi honors. You were such a great influence on my nursing career! Thank you for everything!”
Six years ago, I had this young woman in the Certified Nurse Aide course which I taught through the local community college. I taught this course for almost 11 years. The certified nurse aide (CNA) is such an important member of the interdisciplinary team in long-term care. CNAs are the frontline caregivers. They have one of the hardest jobs in healthcare. It is physically demanding, emotionally tasking, and often forgotten by other healthcare providers. In my early nursing career, I was a CNA. Working as an aide was how I put myself through nursing school. How I was treated—and how I watched others treat CNAs—influenced how I taught my class.
I have found that our nurse aides today are either young, single mothers who are trying to support their families or nursing students paying their way through college. These young people are looking for ways to better their lives. Nursing can be a wonderful, fulfilling career for these young people if given a nurturing environment. During my time teaching the CNA course, I tried to emphasize to my students the importance of their role, including how vital their job is to the success of the resident’s stay at the long-term care facility. I truly believe when a person finds a purpose in life and has that purpose reaffirmed and supported by others, that person’s life is happier and more fulfilled.
We don’t always know whose life we’ve touched. Sometimes, we are just a remembrance of a feeling—“She held my hand”, “He was so good to mom”—but our names are rarely brought to mind. But this is enough. To know a life was positively changed or improved due to an action we took is not only a blessing, but a huge responsibility.
Our CNAs provide a world of warmth, love, and caring to our elders. For many of our elders, the relationships they develop with our CNAs are more important than the relationships they have with their own family members. Our CNAs are hard-working individuals who know our residents the best. They dress, feed, toilet, and groom our residents. They know what makes our residents happy. They know our residents’ favorite TV shows, colors, or outfits. They provide shoulders to cry on, ears to listen, and hearts to love. As a floor nurse, I would be lost without my CNAs’ knowledge. I depend on them almost as much as our residents do.
So today, remember to thank your CNAs. Let them know how much you appreciate the care they’ve given your residents. Remember, they are struggling as well with the face masks, eye shields, and gowns we are all required to wear when giving care to our residents. A smile or a kind word from you may change their world. Both of you will feel better.