Career Advice

Nursing Home Worker Finds Satisfaction Working With Veterans With Dementia Despite Physical Confrontations

This nursing assistant demonstrates patience and kindness every day as she works with veterans with dementia. Though her job can be one of the most draining jobs there is, she finds great reward in knowing that she is helping individuals who have made a great contribution to our society live out the rest of their days in a safe and caring environment.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
I am a Certified Nursing Assistant, and I work in the health care industry focused on elderly residents with dementia. I have been doing this job at a home for Veterans for a year and a half. I would describe myself as willing, attentive, and patient.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
I work with veterans who have lost the ability to take daily care of themselves. The things I perform on any given day are: bathing, dressing, feeding, nail clipping, personal care, redirecting a behavior or an unanswerable question pertaining to these men’s past, chatting with wives or family members, and walking away from an escalating situation. Everyday at my job, I travel with these residents on a trip through their minds, and I try to be understanding. Sometimes I’m a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, or some lady from his distant past. My job requires me to engage in conversations of gibberish in order to distract the resident as I change their adult diaper. Despite their irritating behaviors, which they cannot control, I would like people to know how emotionally close we actually get to our residents, and how much we do love them.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best? Do you speak another language, and has it been helpful in your career?
I am a Caucasian female. Being from a predominately white society has benefited me financially yet deprived me culturally. I understand and speak the Portuguese language, but it has not benefited my career yet.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
I would rate my satisfaction as a 9. When residents are being irrational, unreasonable, or just plain mean, it gets frustrating. I need to put my life into perspective and appreciate not being in their shoes.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
Giving these guys the needed attention they have earned after a long, productive life is how I know I’m in the right field of care giving. Their time is dwindling, and they’re mere shadows of their former selves. Their families are the links to who these individuals once were, and because of this, as difficult as it is, they come to visit dad or grandpa at his new home.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
This is a stepping stone into my future career as an RN.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I needed to get out of customer service. It took me until my late twenties to accept the fact that I’m like my mother; who is also a nurse. This fits my personality better than my previous occupations- I’m a caregiver.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
I’ve learned to be patient, walk away when residents get out-of-control, and try to care for them when they’re in a better state-of-mind. After being punched in the chin, I realized some battles aren’t worth fighting.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
People will try to be better than others at whatever it is we do. We need to stay humble and remember why we got into the profession and not get carried away with egos.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I witnessed an 85 year-old-man drop his trousers and make a bowel movement on a chair as if it were a toilet during dinner in the mess hall.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
I truly enjoy the hard work my co-workers and I put into this job. The sometimes hilarious behavior of the residents provides free entertainment, but I am always prepared to intervene in a troublesome situation. I would liken my job to child care, these proud men unfortunately have reverted to infantile ways. Shifts go by quickly, because I am constantly running around.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
When I can’t rationalize with a resident, and they keep hollering in my ear, that stresses me out. Some co-workers don’t care as much as others; some don’t fully perform their duties, and it frustrates those of us who do care.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
It’s not that stressful. I take care of another person’s basic needs, so it feels good inside, but at times it can be emotionally draining.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
25,000-30,000 a year. I work part time in the school year, so it is enough.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I will take 1-2 weeks of vacation a year, and it isn’t enough.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
At least an associates in a nursing or a R.N. Degree

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
You have to be patient and understand that these guys aren’t in their right minds. Try to put yourself in their vulnerable shoes, and let any ego you may have out the window, because in a job like this it’s not about you.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Living on a farm in northern Minnesota with my husband and perhaps a child, working as a nurse, and traveling the globe.