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Why Becoming A CNA Was The Best Mistake I’ve Ever Made

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.
A run down on why the journey to becoming a CNA made me want to be anything but that.

Like any normal high schooler, I totally struggled with figuring out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I juggled back and forth between various professions from a lawyer to a fashion designer, before finally landing on nursing. I had fully convinced myself it was the right thing for me to go into, because all the puzzle pieces fit together. I cared about other people and wanted to help them as much as I could, and helping them medically was a perfect route for someone with those ideals. But, yeah you guessed it, it didn’t exactly go as planned.

In my junior year of high school, I had the opportunity to become a CNA through a program developed by a myriad of local town guidance counselors. The program worked with about five local school districts and allowed for students in grades 11 or higher to join and work through night classes to get their nursing assistant certification. We would all meet with our teacher, a volunteer school nurse, twice a week from 3:15 to 6:15 and go over the course material within our books, as well as actively doing procedural work. My first warning sign that a healthcare profession was NOT for me should have been when I loathed going to the classes. Seriously, it was the most concentrating I have ever had to do. Although we would get a ten minute break somewhere in between all the learning, most of the time was spent reading our book or listening to the teacher read from a powerpoint. Don’t get me wrong- our teacher was the nicest lady you would ever meet and my classmates were great too, but three hours sitting down on a hard chair does a lot to a person. The program itself was not structured well and the teacher was new to teaching nursing, so it seemed as though we were all stumbling around in the dark together, which is, frankly, not a good mix. We did eventually find a good rhythm to learning the material, testing our knowledge, and then practicing it out in the nursing lab, which was designed to look like a healthcare facility.

But, just when I was finally becoming comfortable with the workload and the swing of the class, disaster struck in the form of clinicals.

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FXX / Giphy

When I initially applied for the program, I was totally aware we were expected to participate in the clinical portion, which involved us being trained by a different nurse at a local assisted living facility and interacting with real residents. What I was not prepared for, was the limited time we actually had to get ready for this transition. All of sudden we were working and handling the lives of actual sick people, which I personally did not feel comfortable with quite yet. I did love interacting with the residents and hearing about their lives, but there were also some less than glamorous issues we dealt with as well. To protect their dignity, I obviously won’t share too much (gotta love HIPPA), but I can sum it up in two words: bed baths. I shiver just thinking about it. This was part of the job though, and at the time I definitely was convinced I wanted to go to college and be a nurse.

I don’t think I knew entirely how personal being a nurse or healthcare professional got, which really caught me off guard. My perception of the field was totally skewed and I give all the credit to those who are able to handle all the complex situations thrown at them. We were all assigned to a unit at the facility and given a resident to care for and feed during lunch and dinner times (depending on what shift you had). Within this unit were residents diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other long term illnesses. Of course all the ladies had the greatest stories to tell, but it was hard for them to interact with us past a short term basis, and others, such as the lady I was with, were almost nonverbal. We found other ways to communicate, through holding hands, hand gestures, our eyes, and one-word conversations. I’m not going to lie, however, because it was incredibly difficult to watch someone lose themselves in front you.

The other girls in my class and I became close with all the other residents and constantly tried stirring up conversation, even if we never got much reciprocation. The ladies and other residents we met along the way were hysterical at times, telling stories of the “good old days” and what they did when they were our age. They had so much wisdom and advice to give us and encouraged us in every step we took in becoming CNAs. But, with the good comes the bad. One of the residents was vehemently racist and refused the care of people of color, which made it difficult to look at him and treat him with respect. This is where I was slowly starting to confirm everything I already knew – which was that this was not the job for me. I felt like everything I was doing was wrong and that I was way behind the other girls in comprehension and connections. The final nail in the coffin was when one of the beloved residents passed away unexpectedly, leaving us all in shock and disarray. I had not known her very well, but she was in the same room with me for lunch everyday and was always happy and kind to those around her. Her death reminded me that this was the downside of working in healthcare. I knew I would not be able to handle that.

After clinicals finished and we all celebrated, we worked for the next couple of months by studying and prepping for the big exam. It came and went fairly quick, and before I knew it – I was a certified nursing assistant! I was excited that my hard work paid off, but when the dust settled and it came down to whether I actually wanted to work under my certification, I already knew the answer to that was a big and resounding NO.

What I failed to mention earlier, is that throughout my time in the CNA program, I was also working my regular job at my town’s daycare as a teaching assistant. I started it to bring in some extra cash flow and save for college, but secretly it also became the best part of my week. I loved the atmosphere of a school setting, seeing the world from a toddler’s eyes, and teaching them new things everyday. Writing this now, it seems pretty obvious I was never that committed to nursing because subconsciously, I knew that working with kids was what I was meant to do. So, instead I stayed with this job rather than finding a CNA job, and I continued to learn more and more about the teaching profession – which only made me love it more. My final confirmation was when I did an internship with a local first grade class and I truly got to interact with elementary students in a school setting. It only pushed me further in wanting to major in early childhood education.

Which brings me to the present. I’m now a freshman here at UMass, with a major in early childhood education – wow, what a surprise, right? I hope to one day have my own classroom filled with crazy and creative minds. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity and experience I had to become a CNA, and don’t regret one second of it. It made me realize what and who I wanted to be, and without it I would probably be drowning in the nursing workload right now. All it took me was putting myself out there to recognize that although I wanted to work with people, I was just searching in the wrong place. Or more specifically, the wrong age group.

Contributors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst