Julia Morrison spent her summer as a CNA at St. Crispin’s Living Community, and it was no easy task. While the pandemic presented special challenges, it also gave her new perspective into how she worked with people. Read Julia’s narrative to learn how she established a bond with residents, made them feel heard, and gained insight into her own interests in the process!
A CNA in the Summer of COVID
Stand in line, six feet apart. Wait for your turn to enter. Sanitize your hands. Grab a clean mask. Get your temperature taken. Sign an entry form. Disinfect and put on your safety glasses.
This is what I did every day before my shifts this summer as a CNA at St. Crispin’s Living Community, a nursing home in Red Wing, MN. I had been hired at the start of the year and completed my certification before heading back to Iowa in the spring. But in March I found myself suddenly back home, thanks to an unforeseen pandemic. With classes online, I had time to start picking up shifts much earlier in the year than I had planned. I began my internship officially on May 14th and ended it on August 13th; exactly thirteen weeks. I had never had any job like it before and I was understandably nervous to start because I knew absolutely nobody that worked there, and I knew that a mistake in this job could be serious. But I wanted to learn more about patient care and have more opportunities to work directly with those that need assistance. Because of this I dove headfirst into this internship, looking to learn all I could during my time there and to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to grow.
As I am sure you are already well aware, this summer was an unprecedented one. While I am extremely proud to report that there has not been, to this day, a single case of COVID-19 at St. Crispin, the pandemic’s impact was still felt heavily within those walls. Something that I could only learn by working hands-on each day with my residents was how important human connection is to life. From the start of the outbreak in March to about mid-July, the nursing home was on an essential-personnel-only quarantine. This meant that no residents could leave, no family could visit in-person, and no non-essential employees, like the hairdresser, could enter. It was startling to see how quickly some of my residents declined after this abrupt change, both mentally and physically. While socializing with residents had always been a part of the job, it became more critical than ever to chat with them, encourage them, check in on them, and find new ways for them to connect with the other residents in the community and stay in touch with their family safely. Perhaps because there was no family allowed, I fostered some really close connections with many of my residents. While I knew I could not replace their family, I wanted to be their emotional support during such a trying time, and they unexpectedly supported me and my self-discovery as well.
My residents loved to share stories of their childhoods, romances, and families. This provided me with many excellent opportunities to develop my skills as an attentive listener; asking engaging questions and encouraging them to share more with me. I shared many of my own stories too, which further grew the connection and trust between myself and my residents. I soon figured out how much it meant to each of them when I picked-up on things they enjoyed, like their favorite drink. It’s a small thing, but I liked doing something like bringing them a hot chocolate prepared just the way they liked it on a slow afternoon because I knew something that simple could make their day. I just wanted to show them that they were not alone, even though it felt like it at times.
I won’t be humble about it: being a CNA can be a really difficult job. I was trained to help aging adults with really personal tasks such as showering, using the bathroom, getting dressed, and much more. I was hesitant in my ability to perform these kinds of tasks when I was fresh out of my classroom training at the start of my internship, but these thirteen weeks have been priceless in helping me develop my patient-care skills and medical knowledge. The amount of time I got to work one-on-one with residents or alongside fellow medical professionals such as nurses, physical therapists, or dietitians has been critical in helping me determine what I have a passion for (as well as what I don’t). On one instance, I got to personally assist a wheelchair designer custom-fit a wheelchair to one of my residents. I was fascinated by the process and how much fine-tuning took place to make it as comfortable as possible.
I was surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed my time at the care center. I went into it a ball of nerves, but I came out completely different. I have a new appreciation for the time I get to spend with my friends and family, even if that time looks a bit different nowadays. I have new confidence in my communication and listening abilities and I feel more comfortable striking up conversations with strangers. Having to work with so many different coworkers, it comes as no surprise that conflicts would arise. But in a setting like the nursing home, there is not time for disputes between CNA’s or nurses because a resident could be hurt in the crossfire. I learned how to quickly address and resolve issues with my fellow healthcare employees and how to work with each other to have the most efficient and successful shift possible. I cannot wait to return to St. Crispin this winter break and to catch up on all the new gossip my residents are bound to have for me, and to keep learning and improving myself!
Julia Morrison is a second-year student at the University of Iowa, pursuing a degree in pre-medical neuroscience. She is involved in numerous organizations on campus including Cru, Medicus, UIHC Volunteer Program, University Honors, and more. She was born and raised in Hastings, Minnesota and hopes to continue her education following her undergrad at medical school to become a neurologist.
Edited by: Anna Magaña, Honors Student Admin