During spring semester of last year, I attended a six week class in order to obtain my license as a State Tested Nurse’s Aide. By becoming certified, I was able to work in a nursing home setting over the summer and experience hands on patient care. My licensure allowed me to work alongside nurses and dieticians to ensure proper care of residents, while also allowing me to make independent decisions regarding residents care. Ultimately, I wanted to broaden my medical knowledge and experience to better prepare me for a career in healthcare in the future; however, the knowledge I obtained far surpassed that.
I gained a vast amount of medical knowledge, but more importantly I learned an incredible amount about interacting with people. The people that I worked with were mostly elderly and in long-term care, meaning that they were at the nursing home permanently, or temporarily living in the nursing home while they participate in rehab and therapy. These people had gone from being completely independent, to having nearly every aspect of their day put on a schedule and determined by the availability of the staff. As is expected, this lifestyle change often made the residents irritable and impatient, and they would take their frustrations out on the aides and the nurses. When I first started the job, the rude remarks and sharp tones made me feel nervous and insecure about my abilities; it seemed like everything I did someone had a problem with in one way or another. However, I pushed through the unpleasantness and remained kind and polite to my residents. I answered every call light as quickly as possible, asked them how they preferred me to do things, what time they wanted to get ready for bed or shower, talked to them about things I was doing in my own life and things they had done in theirs, and I began to notice a change in their attitudes towards me. They were more patient with me when I was busy, their tones were more kind, they talked openly and willingly about their lives and told me stories and asked me about my life; it was a complete turnaround from when I had started and I actually began to love my job.
The other aides and the nurses noticed this I think; in fact, some of them made the comment to me that I was “still so nice and patient because I was new”, and I thought to myself, no, it’s not. I wasn’t being patient and kind because I was new and didn’t yet harbor any resentment towards the job. I was patient and kind and showed genuine interest in my residents because I put myself in their shoes. I empathized with them. I imagined what it would be like to, in some people’s cases, be dropped off at a nursing home with a bunch of impatient strangers to take care of me and never see my family again. I thought about what it would be like to have been young and starting out in life until a motorcycle accident made me a quadriplegic and sent me to a nursing home permanently at age 19 because my family couldn’t take care of me.
I had one resident who was in the rehab wing because she had had a stroke. She was bed ridden for the first few weeks of her stay, wasn’t able to turn over in bed on her own, was told by dietary that she could only eat pureed foods, told by the nurses that she couldn’t get out of bed to go to the bathroom and that she had to use a bedpan, and her daughter had just had a baby and she wasn’t able to leave the nursing home because her husband wasn’t able to transport her on his own. When she arrived to the home, she was less than pleased and not willing to participate in therapy or eat. She was short with the aides and rude to the nurses, which I was able to completely understand because I felt empathy. I did everything I could to make her more comfortable; I asked her questions about her new granddaughter, I offered her ice cream instead of pureed green beans (because gross), I joked with her about how the aides were inefficient, and if I had time I’d sit and watch whatever show she had on. Being kind and showing interest changed her attitude drastically. She began to eat, her health progressed, and she became more positive overall.
Another resident came in after suffering a compound fracture to her femur due to osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. She had broken over one hundred different bones during her lifetime; ribs while she was pregnant, fingers, both arms, both legs and ankles, her sternum, the list goes on. She had lost a daughter to cancer, her other daughter lived in New York, her husband was in prison, she lived alone, and a new neighbor she had befriended had broken into her house and stolen all of her money and jewelry. This poor woman suffered one thing after another and was incredibly lonely. When she came to the nursing home she was bed ridden due to her fracture and every time you went into her room, she talked your ear off. At first it was really frustrating because she would talk to you so long that you couldn’t get any work done. However, after she told me her story and I realized just how lonely she was, I didn’t mind spending so much time with her and I was more willing to change my routine in order to be able to give her more attention. All she needed was a friend, and although it’s not listed explicitly in my job description, I had learned that being a friend and a support system to the people I worked with was a huge part of the job.
The way this job improved my ability to empathize and increased my compassion for other people has been astounding. I feel as if I’ve become a more patient, kinder person from this experience and I also feel that I’ve learned how to really listen to people in order to understand their needs. Sometimes a person may not specifically say what’s wrong or what they need, but they express it through their actions; through their posture, by not eating, through abnormal behavior, etc. I’ve learned how to read people so that when they are unable to or feel like they can’t say what’s wrong, I am still able to help and be there for them. I plan on pursuing a career as a Physician’s Assistant in the upcoming years, and I feel like improving these skills has increased my quality as a health care professional and will continue to help me bond and create strong relationships with patients in the future.