A list of the good, bad and ugly truths about being a certified nurse assistant.
You’re a giver. And you really want to take care of people, but your days as a barista making half-caff macchiatos are over. You want to actually help people, so you’ve decided to pursue a career in nursing. Since you’re probably short on cash and cannot afford nursing school yet, you’ve discovered you can train as a certified nurse assistant (CNA) and get some good experience in the field.
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While the job is not glamorous, there are a few things that are pretty great about being a CNA, and a few that are – well… they’re just gross.
The good news is, you’ll get used to the gross stuff as you develop a routine and learn from your mistakes. As for the heartwarming moments knowing you’re helping someone, those will feel all the more special after a long shift (and a glass of boxed wine at home).
Here are the good, bad and ugly truths about being a CNA:
- Worst: You have to deal with poop. Nursing assistants help patients go poop, they clean up poop and they even help stop poop (as in the case of diarrhea). As a CNA you will assist patients who need to use the bathroom and other times, when patients aren’t able to walk, you will help them use bedpans.
Dealing with poop and pee are never fun and have a high ick factor when it comes to spillage, constipation, and old, angry dudes. (Note: Old, angry dudes can become angry from both spillage and constipation.)
Best: The bright side is, you are doing something that patients cannot do for themselves. Patients are vulnerable and ill, but with your help they can do basic tasks. And, thankfully, you’ll get used to the poop. It’s like living near a farm — eventually you don’t smell the cow dung and you appreciate the charm of the pasture.
- Worst: A patient will vomit on you. Chances are, you’ll get puked on. It’s like being in the splash zone near a swimming pool full of kids; you’re going to get wet!
CNAs work closely with sick patients. And, if patients aren’t feeling well and throw up, it’s your job to take care of it. Whether you’re holding the bin for them to vomit in, or helping them to the bathroom to get sick, accidents happen.
Best: Better out than in! If a patient is vomiting, there’s a good reason for it and you’re part of the solution by assisting them with the exit route. The comfort you’re giving patients, along with detailed notes about their conditions for the rest of the caregiving staff could save patients’ lives. And, if you were close enough to get vomit on you, it means you were doing your job. Don’t worry; you’ll get better with your timing.
- Worst: Patients will cry. There will be times when you have upbeat patients who are positive and grateful. Other times you will have stubborn and negative ones. No matter their disposition, some patients will feel emotional and cry.
It’s always tough to see someone upset. You’re not sure what to do, you probably start sweating and you never seem to have enough tissues. However, as a nursing assistant, you will be your patients’ advocate to nurses and doctors. So, even if the tears start to flow, at least know you can do something about it!
Best: You can make a patient laugh. Maybe you’re great with jokes and puns, or you can comfort a patient with a funny story – whatever the case, if you can bring laughter to a patient’s stuffy recovery room, you’re doing an amazing job. Remember, laughter is the best medicine (aside from actual doctor-prescribed medicines, of course).
- Worst: You’re going to get bossed around. I know, I know, poop, vomit, crying and now this? But, it’s the truth. People are also going to tell you what to do. CNAs are at the bottom of the totem pole. Even though they shoulder a lot of work for the rest of the team, it also means that everyone gets to tell you what to do since you’re a nursing assistant.
Best: Being at everyone’s beck and call means you’ll get to work with every member of the caregiving team. You’ll get to take vitals and run tests, record patient info and even assist with some procedures. You’ll know what everyone does and have a better idea of which type of job you’ll pursue next. You will also have a full range of new skills to leverage for nursing school or another caregiving role.
- Worst: Your salary will be low. You have to remember that a CNA is an entry-level position. On average, CNAs make $26,000 according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. While you won’t be buying a yacht, or ordering those half-caff macchiatos everyday, you will be gaining valuable work experience.
Best: You’re gaining amazing job experience and getting paid to work in the healthcare field with very little training or schooling. Most healthcare roles require a degree, but as a CNA you get to work with patients after completing your training and certification. If you intend to stay in the nursing field, your stint as a CNA and work with medical staff will provide a realistic view of what it’s like. And, if you don’t like it, you haven’t invested four years of schooling.
So, now you know all the dirty details and why so many people become nursing assistants – even though it’s a challenging, fast-paced job, it’s a rewarding way to gain nursing skills and get insight into the healthcare field. If we haven’t scared you away and you’re still reading this, you’re going to be great CNA. Best of luck!