This week marks the 40th anniversary of Nursing Assistants Week and brings with it a great time for healthcare teams to reflect on how all the members of a team help it run smoothly.
This year’s theme for National Nursing Assistants Week is “Specialists in the Art of Caring,” and the theme is one that resonates with nursing assistants. Nursing assistants are essential members of the team and often work especially closely with patients who are disabled or elderly and live in long-term care facilities or are in rehabilitation facilities. They often spend their days caring for patients who may have very limited mobility or have severe dementia or other conditions that may prevent them from performing tasks for themselves. The hands-on care they provide helps people feel better and also provides the comfort of companionship.
Many nursing assistants are so devoted to the caregiving role that they will become certified in their field. The National Association for Health Care Assistants is also joining in the celebration by honoring certified nursing assistants who have taken the extra step toward professional development and education to become certified.
With nearly 1.5 million nursing assistants in the national workforce, the field is one that is growing and in need of additional professionals. With a high school diploma, prospective nursing assistants can gain additional training and certification through many local sources including community colleges and often the Red Cross. Nursing assistants have a physically demanding workload. They frequently move people all day long and so have to be especially careful about proper movement, getting help instead of hoping they can lift or move someone, and using available equipment to assist them in the physical tasks of the job.
Despite the rigor of the typical day, nursing assistants are especially devoted to the people in their care and strive to give them understanding and dignity at a time when they are especially vulnerable. The conversations they provide, even if they are one-sided at times, are an important and uplifting part of a patient’s day. Conversations about everything from the day’s weather to the political state of countries half a world away to comparing family traditions, all help take care of the whole patient, not just their physical needs.
This week is a time to call out the nursing assistants in your organization or on your team to thank them for the caring job they are doing. They are an essential part of making a team run, and because of what they do, the licensed nurses and physicians are able to take care of the pressing medical needs of the patient better, knowing the patient is comfortable and their needs have been met.
Honor this important direct care role by saying thank you to the nursing assistants in your organization and by holding events throughout the week to let them feel appreciated. Flowers, gift cards, a surprise coffee and cake or unexpected refreshments for them, and signs marking the week help make the week special, but can also start some important conversations about the essential teamwork and high-quality caregiving that goes on thanks to this important role.