And there goes almost another month. The time is flying, and I’m not sure why. Is it because things are busy here? Is it because the days are finally starting to feel longer, so we get out and do more? Is it because I was taking a night class for all of January and had 1 hour/day that was un-planned? Probably a little of everything.
A moment of honesty: Over the course of the last 9 months of planning my new career path, I’ve had doubts. Serious, paralyzing doubts. Doubts that I wouldn’t be smart enough to finish school, be patient enough to work with people who frustrated me, enjoy a new role in the medical world. After all, this decision, while thought out for hours and hours and hours, was based on very little concrete evidence that I would, in fact, enjoy being a physician assistant. From the day I graduated from college (except a short stint at REI) every moment of my time has been focused on providing quality educational programs to students (kids and adults) outside of the traditional classroom setting. What makes me think I’ll be good at being a student IN the traditional classroom setting? What makes me think I’ll be good at medicine at all?
For the last month and a half, I’ve been heading straight from work to the Community College to become a certified nurse’s aide. One of the most stringent requirement of all PA programs is a baseline number of patient contact hours in a health care setting. For your average pre-med student, this isn’t hard to come by. Hours working as an EMT on an ambulance, hours as a scribe in the ER, hours as a medical assistant in a clinic. For me, someone with ZERO medical background (except my Wilderness First Responder certification) it was going to be a little more challenging. For 6 months, I asked myself, “EMT or CNA?” “CNA or EMT?” By far, working as an EMT sounded much more interesting and fun than working as a CNA. Riding around in an ambulance responding to emergencies? Or working in a nursing home wiping asses? I knew what I wanted to do. However, it’s nearly impossible to get hired as an EMT with no experience. On top of that, on a 24-hour shift you may only actually see one patient for 20 minutes on the way to the hospital. Every nursing home in the world is always hiring CNAs. Weighing my preferences and the needs of my application, I decided to go with a CNA certification to start, with the possibility of getting my EMT later in the process. And so I sat through a month of evening classes learning how to change diapers, do bed to wheelchair transfers, brush dentures, and any number of other tasks that sound terrible when written in a list.
And then came our clinicals. Honestly, I was dreading these. It was the last step before being able to take the state certification exam, and the culmination of the class: spend 3 8-hour shifts at a local nursing home following Nurse Aides and learning “on-the-job.”
I loved it.
Of course, the first day was awkward. Following someone else around and watching them do their job is uncomfortable, I felt like I needed to be helping. But helping someone you don’t know go to the bathroom or change into their pajamas is awkward too, especially for them. I never felt like I was in the right place, I never felt like I was being useful, and I never felt comfortable. I did, however, learn some names. This made is SO MUCH BETTER on the second day when we had to go back and be more independent. Even if I didn’t know the residents that well, knowing their names made them feel much more comfortable with me, and thus made me feel more comfortable with them. During my three days at the facility, I changes LOTS of diapers, helped residents eat their dinner, helped get them ready and into bed, helped bathe them, and got to know them a little bit. The thing about old people, even ones that are confused or delusional, is that they’ve lived amazing lives and they love young people. They want to talk to you, they want to listen to you, and they REALLY appreciate your help. A CNA is not the most glamorous job in the world. It doesn’t pay that well, and going home with the smell of human feces in your nostrils every night isn’t the best. But the people make it worthwhile. After all, it could be your grandparents and you know you’d want them taken care of.