Each year, the third week of June is a time to recognize and honor the work of certified nursing assistants with CNA Week. Celebrated this year from June 15 to 23, the National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA) sponsors the week and helps draw attention to the vital work certified nursing assistants do.
According to the NAHCA, nearly one million CNAs are in the workforce. Primarily working with elderly patients and those with disabilities, CNAs work in skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, and staffing and home health agencies. Certified nursing assistants also provide vital work in hospice and hospital facilities.
This year’s CNA Week theme is “We’re Unstoppable” to show how the work of CNAs provides a solid foundation of essential care for an often-frail patient population that requires hands-on direct health care and for many activities of daily living.
Since 1995, the NAHCA has advocated for CNAs and for the people they care for. The organization helps promote this professional career path as one that is meaningful and particularly satisfying for certified nursing assistants who value building lasting relationships with those they care for. Because many CNAs remain committed to a lifelong career as a CNA, the organization also promotes continuing education for CNAs, better workplace conditions through recognition, education, advocacy, and motivation.
To help ensure the success of CNAs and the highest quality of caregiving, the NAHCA advocates for CNAs by working closely with healthcare providers and the long-term care facilities where many CNAs work.
CNAs work under the direct supervision of a nurse and so must learn how to advocate for themselves and for their patients. Communication skills are important for a CNA, whether it is for conveying patient information to a supervisor or in working with a patient or family members. Because CNAs work so closely with patients, they are excellent at noticing concerning changes in a patient or in hearing about family or caregiver concerns. They can observe any fluctuations in movement, speech, eating patterns, or mood because they are around patients as they perform tasks to help them with bathing, eating, moving, or taking medication. CNAs may also use technology to help record healthcare details or to chart tasks or patient changes.
And CNAs often develop close relationships with patients because of the routine they provide. Their schedule might allow them to see the same patients for breakfast every day, for example, and they can talk about how the night went or what they need for the day. Frequently, CNAs in care facilities spend time talking with patients, listening to their stories, and being a comforting presence that is especially welcome.
If you are a CNA or have CNAs on your team, take time this week to appreciate all this role brings to the healthcare team.
Minority Nurse Scholarship finalist Shanelle McMillan says nursing is a family tradition, but that she has been especially gratified to start her nursing career as a certified nursing assistant (CNA).
Now a junior in Winston-Salem State University’s Division of Nursing, McMillan’s five-year plan includes an RN, a BSN, and enrollment in the doctorate of nursing at Winston-Salem State University where she would eventually like to teach.
But she believes her training as a CNA gave her the most fundamental and essential introduction to nursing that she could have. In her scholarship application, McMillan called becoming a CNA one of her most meaningful achievements.
As a CNA, McMillan says she was able to see if nursing was really going to be the right career choice for her. Always the first to comfort others who are upset or in pain, McMillan says the experience as a CNA offered close work with patients where she was able to see almost immediate impact.
“I believe the benefits of starting as a CNA is to get your hands and feet wet in the healthcare system and to see if you will really like nursing or not,” she says. And the daily interactions with people meant she would spend considerable amounts of time caring for patients, but also getting to know them as well.
“As a CNA I have first-hand knowledge of the struggles of disabled persons and what they go through on a daily basis,” she says. “I get to interact with the client which is the most important of all because if you get to know your client, it will be easier to care for them.”
And McMillan says this is also where she saw the benefits of a diverse nursing staff. When patients see people who look like they do or have the same cultural experiences, they are more open, she says. Developing that strong bond helps with treatment.
Raised primarily by her grandmother in Richmond, Virginia, McMillan’s determination and drive come from watching her. As a nurse who worked long hours, McMillan’s grandmother always helped people, even during her off hours. That kind of role model was a huge influence.
“My determination comes from my rough childhood and upbringing,” she says. “My dad always told me to be strong and tough, and my grandmother always taught me to never give up.”
As she has progressed through nursing school, McMillan says the friends she has made and the supportive professors have all helped her success. And McMillan also credits her faith with keeping her moving forward. “There were a lot of setbacks in my life getting me to this point,” she says. “And I have to give thanks and all honor to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without him, I don’t even think I would be in nursing school.”
With her progression through the various opportunities in the nursing profession, McMillan says she is especially conscious of being part of a group that is so determined in its dedication.
“Some say all nurses have at least one thing in common,” says McMillan, “they want to help people. Not only do they play the role of caretaker for their patients, but in some circumstances, they can also be a friend, an advocate, counselor and teacher. It takes a special kind of person to fill all of those roles the way nurses do.”
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