Think you might like to work as a nurse aide? We interviewed one to find out the truth about the job – what’s hard, what’s rewarding, how it pays and much more. Here’s what we found out:
What is your job title and what industry do you work in?
For the past three years, I have been a nurse aide on the oncology/medical surgical/nursing home placement floor at a local medical center, and the first lesson I learned was that there was no such thing as a typical day. There’s a guideline of a routine that they like us to follow, but typical? Not so much. Patients come and go so quickly that you never know what you are going to get, and it adds a spice of excitement to what I do. I see a lot and learn so much more.
Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
A common misconception about the nurse aide role is that we only do a bath and that’s it, but it is so much more involved. We help the patient, yes, but we work directly with them, getting the opportunity to spend more time with them than even the nurses do. I have seen people at their worst and watched them fight with courage; have seen the spirit persevere against the odds. I have held the hand of dying patients and comforted them in their last moments and been thankful for all I have. I have been instrumental in saving lives, too, so it has been so much more than giving a bath for me or making sure their water pitcher is full. It has served as my inspiration for so many things.
How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
The journey started with the death of my mother, and how kind the staff was to her. The death of my father a year later to cancer as I cared for him told me that I knew where I needed to be. When other perspective employees shrunk away from the idea of working with this population, I begged for the opportunity to fill the position on the floor. I was so inspired, I applied for nursing school, and learned all I could, which was a lot, from the staff who were very willing to help me. I would change nothing about that decision, or the path that led me to it. We are what our experiences make us.
What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?!
As much as I love it, it was not without its rough spots. Mistakes were my opportunity for learning, so when I handed the wrong vital signs to the nurse and ended up monitoring a patient for the next two hours until the Lasix was out of their system, I learned how very important it was to never be too busy to double check my work even if I was sure I had it right. The patient was fine, but the fact that they very nearly may not have been was heart wrenching. I also learned very quickly what not to say, another hard won lesson. It resulted in a lecture of professionalism, which, by the way, I have not forgotten. It has helped me as I set on the path to be a registered nurse.
What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
While this career did not require a degree, my nursing career does. I did clinicals in this facility, and the very first thing you learn in and OUT of school is that the best laid plans often go awry. I learned to role with the punches, even as an aide, because we get them a lot too. Time management is the key, something I struggled with until I worked here. When every minute counts, you learn quickly.
What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
The experience has not been without some of the strangest things I have ever seen. I remember a senile patient who sawed off their mag sensor (it is a type of security alarm) with their dentures, get dressed and leave. They made it all the way home, did not feel well, and called the ambulance to come back. I was used to bizarre, but that got even me.
What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
I enjoy the work I do, and I go to work every day because it is an opportunity for me to make a difference, regardless of how small it may seem, to a person who needs it. It is an opportunity to help, and to realize how very thankful I am for all that I have. The proudest I ever felt at this job was in one simple phrase spoken by a sick patient: “Thank you for treating me like a person.”
The most difficult part of the healthcare field is that while I spend so much time fixing people, I know I will see some of them again and again and again for the very same reason, and it is like beating your head against a brick wall, but you still make a difference each time. It might not stick, but you have the opportunity to do it again in the hopes that it will that time.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
The job can be stressful, and there are times when I take it home with me, but they’re really few and far between.
What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
The pay is decent, and full time I make roughly thirty thousand a year. It provides for me and my family, which is all I really need. I keep hearing that vacations are a must to stay fresh and avoid burn out, but I have taken only one in my time here, and I don’t feel any more exhausted than I did on the first day I started.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
The requirements are not hard to meet. A high school degree or GED is sufficient to get hired, but if people skills are not a strong suit, this is not a good fit. However, if there is a desire to help and communication and people skills are good, it is a position that is easy to slide into. Oh, and don’t forget your running shoes, because you will be busy.