The students who take “Sociology of the Life Course” at Colgate University with me, go on to do amazing things. In the next few installments, I have asked a few of these students to guest blog about their experiences in “the field,” as we say. Evan, a rising senior, is spending his summer training to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and writing about this for his senior thesis. Here is part one of his adventures in nursing!
Have you ever wondered about the people who provide the vast majority of institutionalized care work in our country? As a multi-dimensionally privileged, healthy, able bodied, American born male I may not have encountered a nursing assistant since I was born over twenty four years ago. Yet over the course of the last four weeks I have come to intimately know dozens of home health aides and nursing assistant students. So…who are these people that I have quickly learned to admire? Our group of twenty nursing assistant students have faithfully commuted up to four hours each day, and we have consistently shown up for class every day over the last four weeks. Many of us have children, full time jobs, or both; several students, both with and without children, come to class every morning after working long night shifts at a psychiatric hospital. Class is never easy, but these students magically stay awake hour after hour both in the classroom and in the skills lab.
The traditional textbook and classroom portion of our learning has been completed and we will now transition into the clinical section of our nursing assistant training. I am particularly nervous about this section of our training. Learning to change a brief and provide perineal care to an elderly person is no walk in the park, and I am still unsure how well a book can prepare me for the journey on which I am about to embark. I even had to relearn how to wash my hands properly! Although many of my peers have taken care of children and/or elderly parents before, I have zero experience providing care for either demographic. I have never changed a diaper or brief, fed someone, given a bed bath, or dressed anyone other than myself. Even though I have perhaps the least amount of care work experience of all of the students in the class, I am relieved to know that we are all nervous, and I believe we will grow as individuals and as a class through whatever next week has in store for us.
Our teacher has a tough job. Over the last eighteen years she has brought thousands of people out of unemployment, launched innumerable careers, and empowered her students with the knowledge necessary to successfully compete in the medical field. As a student in her Home Health Aide and Nursing Assistant training course, I can also attest to the difficult challenges that face her unique teaching environment; her current class of twenty students speak nearly a dozen languages, come from as many countries, and all of us must be trained to provide quality care to an even wider range of patients, residents, and clients. Our next week of clinical practice in a local nursing home will be as much a test of our newly developed skills as it will be a testament to her adaptability as a professional nurse and educator.
Want to hear more about the daily life of a nursing assistant? Want to know what it is like to change a brief, give a bed bath, or use a hoyer lift for the first time? Stay tuned for next time, when I write about my first experiences in nursing home care work.