My first job out of high school was as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in an assisted living facility. I’d started university that same year and was on my way to finishing my prerequisites for the nursing program, so I figured it was a great opportunity to earn some money and experience working in my future career field.
I don’t know about other CNAs, but it was a rough start for me. Going to clinicals at a local nursing home during my CNA class was emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. Working in a nursing home wasn’t nearly as exhausting or heartbreaking, but it was still hard work, long days, and an emotional rollercoaster when residents got sick or passed away.
But there were many aspects of being a CNA that I still think back on now, even though it’s been a decade.
Preparation for Nursing School
Probably the most obvious thing I loved about being a CNA was that it was great preparation for being a registered nurse (RN). The job responsibilities and expectations are definitely different, but getting used to working in a fast-paced medical environment where lives are often on the line was a big help in making the transition to nursing school clinicals.
It also gave me a great appreciation for the CNAs I worked with during and after nursing school. CNAs work hard and care about their patients. The jobs they do are not always glamorous, but they’re vital to a patient’s life and treatment plan, and they make doing an RN’s job much easier.
Time with Patients
In the medical field, you either have too much time on your hands or not nearly enough. When I started working as a registered nurse, it seemed like I had even less time, especially to be one-on-one with patients.
This varies by specialty, of course, and I’ve worked in a variety of facilities and circumstances over the years. In my experience, the more managerial my position got, the less time I had directly with patients.
With some patients who didn’t seem to like me (or anyone, really), that was probably all for the better. But many times, I would have a patient who just needed my time to listen to them, and it always hurt my heart to have to cut our interactions shorter than I wanted, especially since I used to have more time for those situations.
That’s not to say nurses don’t have time with their patients, depending on where they work. But often, our time is already allocated before we even get the shift going. And that doesn’t mean that CNAs have all the time in the world. It just felt like with activities of daily living, I had much more of that time with patients that let me talk and listen.
Appreciation for Life
You learn this in many jobs in the nursing field. But for me, being a CNA in an assisted living home was what taught me to have a better appreciation for life.
In the medical field, health care specialists work with any number of patient demographics, some healthy and others more chronically ill. CNAs commonly work in geriatrics as I did, and in that specialty, you learn a lot about loss and how important it is to appreciate the now.
It was rough being a CNA, but there were many things I loved. For all the former, current, and future CNAs out there, I hope you’ll also be able to look back on your work and find reasons to love it, too.