Having completed the classroom portion of a CNA training course, I knew the skills needed and how to perform them. I was ready for the next step – or so I thought. Being confronted by the scent of ammonia upon stepping into the facility instantly had me second guessing myself. All previous comments from coworkers were starting to make a bit more sense, as the reality of the situation was now starting to sink in. While our instructor had provided us with a good understanding of what we would be doing during clinicals, being out on the floor was another beast entirely. It is certainly fair to say that a student really can’t fully know what to expect from clinicals until they are actually in the facility and working with the residents. It didn’t take long at all for me to realize just how arduous it often is to work in this role.
The Value of CNA Mentors
Our class was slated for the early hours, so many of our tasks centered around helping the residents get prepared to kick off their day. The biggest aspect of every morning was always breakfast. Being the students and in need of experience, we assisted with feeding the residents who were unable to do so themselves. Given that the students in our class were outnumbered 2 to 1, this initially shaped up to be quite an intimidating endeavor. Thankfully, we were not on our own the first day. Some students from a previous session had to make up a day and were joining us during our initial introduction to clinicals. I can’t overstate how helpful it was having those individuals out on the floor with us. Since they had been working with these 3residents for the past two weeks, they knew the best way to go about interacting with them. Who likes to eat what, which residents are more difficult to feed, and what is the best technique to ensure they ate – these were all helpful tidbits of advice that these veteran students provided us during breakfast. While mealtime became more of a challenge in the following days after the mentoring students had left, the early assistance from them was vital in helping carry us through our remaining time.
With breakfast out of the way we would then dive into practicing our skills. Helping residents take a shower was the go-to, because a student can get several different skills checked off at one time by the instructor. While lab time is great and essential to training, let me just take a moment to say that practicing a skill on a manikin doesn’t come close to working with an actual person. Showers alone were daunting tasks that would frequently take us up to 30 minutes for us to complete and were always performed with a group of two students for additional support. As it would turn out, what I thought was the day’s greatest challenge was just a drop in the bucket for the CNAs on staff. I was astounded to learn that some CNAs were tasked to give 9 different residents showers by themselves, and all before lunch! And here I was struggling to just complete one…while having help. This doesn’t even include what the remainder of their day entailed. Needless to say, my respect for those who work in this role was only amplified.
While showers were an essential part of a resident’s morning routine, they introduced a predicament for our class during the early days of clinicals. Essentially, students in my course who were not performing skill, were unable to do anything other than wait around. As students, we needed to be checked off on a skill by our instructor prior to being able to perform it unsupervised. Since it was so early into the training and we hadn’t yet been approved on any skills, there really wasn’t anything for us to do. As a result, much of our initial time on the floor felt wasted. This ran parallel with another dilemma we frequently encountered: locating those we could perform skills on. While checking off feeding was simple (everybody needs to eat), not everyone needed to be transferred to their wheelchair or wore dentures that required cleaning. Collaborating with those on staff to track down residents who would be good candidates for practicing these more specific skills on didn’t do much to expedite the process either. Identifying a resident that we could perform a specific skill on didn’t even guarantee that we would be able to get signed off, as they were entirely within their rights to refuse any treatment. All these separate variables effectively compounded on one another and led to progress being made at a snail’s pace early on. It wasn’t until about the end of our first week that we were able to work somewhat on our own, with this time primarily made up of taking vitals, another universally applicable skill.
The Feel-Good Power to Being a CNA
Even though the start to clinicals was on the rocky side, we managed to find our groove by the second week on the floor. By this point we had a good understanding of how to work with individual residents and what their specific needs were, now possessing the knowledge our predecessors had exhibited so effortlessly that very first day. Having been checked off on the majority of the required skills by this point, we were all assigned certain residents to work with and care for each day. This allowed us to not only acquire important practice, but also to begin developing rapport with those who called the facility home. Having an opportunity to simply sit and chat with a resident about their family, hobbies, or favorite foods were among the highlights of my time in training – the moments that made the whole experience worthwhile. There was just something special about knowing you’re making a difference in someone’s day, as small as it may seem.
There’s no denying that working as a CNA is tough, and it is certainly not for everyone. Between the long hours, physical demands, and less than stellar compensation, I can certainly see why many candidates are scared off early on. However, those able to work past these surface deterrents will discover a truly rewarding career. Seeing the genuine gratitude expressed when helping a resident return to a freshly made bed or assisting them in enjoying some quality time outside help make up the little victories that mean so much – the gems that set this role apart from all others.