Certified nurse assistants (CNAs) are the women and men in nursing home, home health, and assisted living care settings who take care of elders day in and day out and are often as close to their residents as their family members are. Unfortunately, this very important role is plagued by poor wages and high turnover rates. In fact, close to 20 percent of nurse assistants are living below the federal poverty line, compared to just seven percent of workers across all industries. This new series for Age In America profiles the work of CNAs and in doing so examines what it’s like to care for older people. The individuals in this series were interviewed during the National Association of Health Care Assistants annual meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. I hope you enjoy learning about the incredible dedication, loyalty, compassion, and hope they demonstrate through these interviews.
(1/2) How did you become a CNA? “At a young age, I had a lot of family members who were sick and in and out of the hospital, and I was always the one who went to their bedside and took care of them. That kind of directed me to become a CNA. I work at [a nursing home]. I have been there for 23 years. I love my job because I feel like I’m making a difference in somebody’s life. They can’t do for themselves anymore so that’s something I can do for them, to help them have a better quality of life.”
What are some favorites memories from your work? “There are always people who will stick out in your mind—people who you get especially close to. And sometimes it’s not even someone you happen to care for on a daily basis. It might be now and then you answer their light, or it could be something they did or said. It could be something like a hug or the fact that their face lights up when you walk in the room. I actually had a patient whose family actually planned her 93rd birthday party for Sunday so I could be there. There are also people that I run into today, that I took care of their family member 20 years ago and they still know me. And I actually had a patient where I took care of her dad, and then her mom got real sick and I took care of her in the nursing home. To this day she comes to the nursing home every Christmas to bring me cookies. It’s been 10 years now.”