Working as a CNA

  • Nov 20, 2017

As some of you may know, to get into PA school you need patient care experience, and a lot of it. And it has to be paid. One of the common jobs in health care that students choose to pursue while still in their undergrad is to be a CNA, or a Certified Nursing Assistant. That is ultimately what I ended up doing, even though I took a class to be a PCT, or a Patient Care Technician. Basically, I learned everything that a CNA would except I also learned how to draw blood. Either way, this experience has been invaluable.

It’s difficult to truly know how it feels to be a part of the medical field without actually working it. I had volunteered in a hospital before, but that was nothing compared to working it. My first few training shifts were incredibly nerve-wracking. You learn all this stuff in a classroom and during the short clinical rotation, but those are nothing compared to the real thing. I work the night shift, and it looks a little like this:

  • 6:55p: Arrive and punch in NO EARLIER than 5 minutes prior to shift
  • 7p: Get a report from the day NAs, possibly divide the floor between another NA.
  • 7:05p: Begin passing fresh water to all applicable patients and begin vitals
  • 7:05p-9:00p: Finish up vitals while also taking people to the bathroom, getting snacks, clearing dinner trays, and getting people into bed.
  • 9:00p: Track down the nurses and confirm the patients listed for blood sugars. Go and get those blood sugars.
  • 9:30p-11:00p: Help people to the bathroom, do bed changes, grab extra blankets, bring patients drinks or snacks, and turn patients that need turning.
  • 11:00p: Track down nurses again to confirm what patients need vitals every 4 hours. Begin getting those.
  • 12:00a-3:00a: Usually decently quiet. Make some runs to the lab or pharmacy, help nurses out by grabbing things or helping with a patient, take some to the bathroom
  • 330-5ish: Begin either doing the next set of 4-hour vitals or do everyone’s vitals, depends on the floor. Usually will follow the phlebotomists to wake them up only once. Also, obtain daily weights (the worst part…no one likes getting out of bed at 5 am)
  • 5a-7a: Possibly continue getting everyone’s vitals, or get blood sugars (again, depends on the floor)
  • 7a: Give report and then hurry home to bed!

So that’s a typical night. Assuming nothing goes wrong. Some nights can be easy, some can be incredibly busy. Other nights are spent just sitting with a patient in their room all night to provide comfort and safety (and sometimes those nights are more eventful than working the floor!).

Then there are the not so typical nights. There was a night that I spent sitting with a patient who was originally stable, but things went downhill fast. He was no code (meaning no resuscitation measures could be done) and we made sure he wasn’t alone while he faded away. That one was tough, because I had sat with him and chatted with him and his family, and then a few hours later had to face that family again. His nurse and I cried. I went home early that night.

Another time, there was a patient who coded (respiratory arrest from aspiration). Their heart rate dropped. Suddenly, everyone was mobile. Crash cart was brought, and CPR began. Doctors, respiratory therapists, nurses, and NAs from other floors came running in. CPR looks different when it is done on a real person as opposed to a mannequin…it's surreal, and all I could think was “nobody’s chest should cave in like that”. Luckily, it only took two rounds of two minute CPR to get a pulse back. By now my teeth were chattering with adrenaline. He was intubated and other care began. The strangest part of all this was that after it was over and he was deemed stable, everyone went back to what they were doing.

That is a quick look at what it’s like to be a nursing assistant. Experiences can vary place to place, and even floor to floor within the same facility. Some places may have different shift times or shift duties. No matter what, however, it is a rewarding experience to take part in caring for another human being. Even at the times when I am the most frustrated, I am thankful to have this job and for every person I care for. It makes it all worth it to see these people get better.


By Jillian