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In this new quarterly Caring column, National Association of Health Care Assistants (NAHCA) CEO and cofounder Lori Porter, NAHCA board chair and long-time certified nursing assistant (CNA) Sherry Perry, and CNA and member of the NAHCA board Branden Fillbrook share insights and guidance for post-acute and long-term care CNAs and other team members as a new year starts. Written by senior contributing writer Joanne Kaldy.
We tend to think of a new year as an opportunity to tackle work and life with a clean slate and a fresh perspective. But we can’t ignore the fact that many of the challenges of the previous year follow us into the new one, and we have to deal with them to move forward.
For many CNAs these challenges include staffing shortages, stress and burnout, and juggling family and work. But there are some keys to starting the new year on the right foot — stronger, better, and happier.
Remember you are a key member of the care team. You know your residents better than anyone. Your colleagues depend on you, and the mutual trust and respect between CNAs and health care leaders has only grown stronger over the years. If you observe something about a resident that concerns you, you should report it to the resident’s physician, charge nurse, or other clinician. If your report isn’t followed up on, don’t give up. Go to the director of nursing (DON) or medical director.
Practice self-care. CNAs are often natural caregivers. However, stress and burnout can occur when you give without taking time for yourself. Don’t neglect your own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. This can be challenging when you have a demanding career and a family to care for; however, there are ways to balance the two. Look at opportunities for scheduling flexibility so you can help your kids with their homework; or partner with a colleague or friend to share after school care. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t vacuum this week or if leftovers are on the menu again. Let your family know when you need help with household tasks and where they can be helpful. Take time for a nap, a walk, a movie, or curling up with a book. It will help refresh and reinvigorate you.
Take advantage of the many resources available to you. NAHCA recently introduced its new Learning Management System, the CareForce Virtual Campus, available to NAHCA members. This state-of-the-art system offers numerous classes on a variety of subjects dealing with various care settings. NAHCA also has monthly webinars on topics such as CNA safety, epilepsy care, infection control and prevention, posttraumatic stress disorder, and self-care.
Time management is important. For instance, if you have patients you know will want to use the bathroom around lunchtime, take care of that before it’s time to serve trays so it doesn’t interfere with their or others’ meals. Rounding every hour and asking patients about their needs can help you cover all the bases.
Don’t let negativity bring you down. Everyone makes mistakes, but it can feel like CNAs get called out and talked down to more than other team members. Instead of focusing on criticism, focus on being an advocate for your residents. Be an empathetic listener, and do what you can to meet your residents’ needs and maximize their quality of life. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand how much a little care and kindness might mean. Your positivity can be a bright light in their day.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, but this doesn’t mean you should feel guilty or like you’ve failed. Getting stressed and burned out hurts everyone. Instead, try to take action. For instance, if a resident is constantly pressing a call light or being especially demanding, this takes time away from your ability to care for other residents, and it saps your energy. Seek help from a colleague or a supervisor. It may mean switching assignments with another CNA, or maybe the team needs to look at what is causing this person’s behavior.
The new year will have challenges and likely some unpleasant surprises. But when we work together and remember that we all share the goal of providing the best possible care for our residents, we can find those bright spots, successes, pearls of wisdom, and happy moments where we’re reminded of why we do what we do.