Michele Thacker, Clinical Educator with Riverside Lifelong Health

I am a long term care nursing instructor. I teach CNA classes. That's right CNA, Certified Nursing Assistant. It's a starting point for many care providers --- I was there myself --- and it taught me about being a nurse. It was the most challenging work I ever did. Today, it is one of the most critical roles in long term care. We cannot exist without our CNAs.

Michele Thacker, Lifelong Health

A few years ago, I was in the hospital with my mother when she was ill. Her primary nurse could see right through me and asked, “You're a nurse aren't you?" I proudly admitted I was. "What setting do you practice?" I went on to tell her I worked in Aging Related Services and taught CNA classes. With respect, she said. "Well you certainly earn your money." This nurse went on to tell me that she knew the special nature of working with senior adults and how it really takes a special person.

To go into nursing, you have to have love, caring, compassion for your fellow being. These CNA classes remind me each time I teach, that these are the FUNDAMENTALS of nursing and this is why I went into nursing in the first place. I have the opportunity to be the first instructor and an inspiration for these students. I help set the tone for nursing for them. What a privilege I've been given.

Before we go to clinical each morning for two weeks we stand in a circle holding hands and we pray before we go to care for these precious people. They are given the choice to participate or not. I've never had a student decline to pray. We hit the floor the first day, the students reminding me of my children going off to school for the first day. Sometimes they are petrified.

I remember not so long ago in the 1980s having that feeling, rekindling each time there is a class. The work of CNAs sometimes involves assisting residents with simple tasks like brushing their teeth or putting on socks. They help adults maintain or gain independence in defiance of the effects of illness and the aging process. The students learn to listen to the stories of wisdom and all the days gone by, realizing that the people they care for are just like us, they are the same, simply older.

Most of my students will say that they didn't think they could take care of the elderly. Then they grow to love them and appreciate how comical they are, admitting they are just like them! Someone has time to sit and hold their hand, smiling and listening to them. They learn to listen, even through the limitations of dementia. They learn pieces of puzzles from the past and how that long term memory stays intact; that person is searching for resolution for something in their past that they never were able to resolve. They are hungry to learn and understand what that resident is trying to pull out from the past.

The unfortunate reality is that occasionally a resident will present challenges. But for us, a resident like this can also provide rewarding opportunities. One particular resident comes to mind. She was so bitter and angry and showed it outwardly in her behavior. She resisted care all around, no matter what approach one took. Providing daily care for this resident required the most understanding CNA. One of the students wanted to care for this resident. She was up to the challenge, so was I. She took care of this resident, showing her that, no matter what, she was going to take good care of her and to give her a chance. Finally, day of graduation came and the student went back to see her resident after two difficult weeks of clinical. The resident welled up with tears rolling down her cheeks and told the student, "I Love You."

Lastly, they show, they give and learn to love. And the residents return the love back. I am truly blessed to do what I do and so thankful for the opportunity to try to make a difference.

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