For the 53rd class of Caroline Center nursing assistant trainees, the nearly 4-month long program flew by. And now here they were – in the same room where just 15 weeks earlier they had quietly introduced themselves to each other and nervously waited for orientation to begin – about to debrief their instructors on the week of clinicals they had just completed at various healthcare centers around town. Back in September, their blue scrubs were stiff and starchy with newness. Now, they were well worn and broken in, the uniform of true professionals. The course had flown by, which is not to say it was easy. For months the women grappled with anatomy and physiology, struggled with medical terminology, and mastered state of the art patient care. And then they were sent into the field to practice on site what they’d learned in the lab. For a week they worked alongside other healthcare professionals at places like St. Elizabeth’s, Bayview, and Maria Health Care. They had learned a great deal and were eager to report on the experience.
“You look older and wiser!” career counselor Yvonne Moten exclaimed. It was true. They did. The women had a confidence about them not evident 15 weeks earlier.
“So how was it? What did you learn about yourself?” Sr. Margaret Mary Kennedy prodded.
“I learned that I know what I’m doing!” said one, proudly.
“I learned that I’m a professional,” another said assertively.
“And I learned I can clean up poop,” said a third, surprised to hear those words come out of her mouth.
“Amen to that!” more than a few others chimed in as the rest of the room laughed. As you may know, that particular task comes with the CNA territory.
“What else?” Sr. Kennedy asked, shifting attention while stifling a giggle of her own.
“I learned that it mattered. That it mattered I was there,” said a woman in the back row, almost to herself, as if the thought had never occurred to her before. And it did, of course. Matter. It mattered a great deal. It had always mattered, but now she had validation. After training and clinicals she and the others were eligible to register as Certified Nursing Assistants. It was a good feeling.
“Honestly? I think they were really sorry to see us go at the end of the week,” explained another. “I think we brought an enthusiasm for the job and a sense of professionalism they don’t often see.”
“Now you know why so many employers seek out Caroline Center grads,” Yvonne said. A statement that should have bolstered their confidence even more but instead gave them pause. The room got quiet for a moment. Suddenly they realized that upon graduation and their entrance into the healthcare world, they would be representatives of Caroline Center, the very place that had taught them what it means to be a pro. These women would have a reputation to uphold. Yvonne and Sr. Kennedy sensed what they were thinking.
“And how do you maintain that enthusiasm throughout your career? Let’s face it. All of us can get stale in our job. What is it that will keep you enthusiastic about your work so that every day is like the first day?” Yvonne asked the women.
The room was quiet.
“By staying professional,” one said knowingly. I thought it was a good answer.
“By always caring?” said another, more of a question than a statement.
“By taking care of yourself. By maintaining a balance in your life,” Yvonne countered. Suddenly, things had come full circle. This new batch of caregivers was reminded that they, too, need care. Both Yvonne and Sr. Kennedy knew, that for these women, getting a job as a CNA would not mean the end to the daily struggles of their lives. They would, for the most part, still be single moms juggling family, jobs, finances, and more. They hoped that the holistic approach to training which Caroline Center had provided – including not only job training but also financial literacy, life and coping skills, counseling, tutoring, and more – would hold each woman in good stead as she pursued a new career and new possibilities. Still, it didn’t hurt to remind them. They matter. They matter to Yvonne and Sr. Kennedy and every one at Caroline Center. They matter to their families, and employers, and patients. They matter a great deal.