The CNA: Providing Care, Friendship, Advocacy for Elders

By Lisa Giles

Lisa Giles is CNA talent acquisition and onboarding assistant at St. Ann’s Community. She can be reached at 585-697-6397or

They’re the first person you see in the morning and the last before you go to sleep at night.

If you live in a skilled nursing community, you know who I’m talking about: the CNAs, or certified nursing assistants.

These special people spend more time taking care of our loved ones in skilled nursing than anyone else. And since National Nursing Assistants Week is this month (June 16-23), we thought we’d shine a light on these important individuals.

In my 33 years as a CNA at St. Ann’s Community, I cared for and became friends with thousands of elders and formed close ties to their families. I’m blessed to have had that opportunity and proud to say it made me the person I am today. (In my current role, I am a CNA recruiter for St. Ann’s.)

The CNA’s day begins when the elders on their floor wake up — although some work evening or night shifts according to their preference. The CNA helps get them going: morning routines, helping them dress, putting on their hearing aids, tidying up their rooms. Working with other staff, CNAs assist with breakfast and prepare the elders for morning activities. They do the same at lunchtime, then bring our elders back to their rooms for some rest and relaxation. It’s then that the CNA can spend time socializing with them if the elders so choose—playing games, painting their nails, helping with personal tasks, and simply sharing conversation.

As you can imagine, a close bond forms between the CNA and the elders they care for. It’s one of the most rewarding things about the job. The CNA is a caregiver but also a friend, a protector and an advocate who is there for the elder when their family can’t be. Their value to our residents is so significant!

I will be honest: it’s not an easy job. First, it’s very physical. CNAs are on their feet all day and our elders rely on them to help them get from place to place. Second, patience and empathy are crucial; you have to put yourself in the elder’s shoes, something most of us have to work at. I tell new CNAs to think of how they’ll want to be treated one day or the kind of care they’d want for an older relative. It’s about doing your best every day for the people you’re caring for. If your heart isn’t in it, it’s not the job for you.

If it is the job for you (more about that in a moment), it’s a great career starter. Many CNAs go on to become licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, nurse educators or nurse managers. Working as a CNA helps you develop the compassion necessary for those jobs and gives you an understanding of older adults and their needs. Many skilled nursing communities like St. Ann’s offer training and scholarships to help with career advancement.

Speaking of training: At St. Ann’s we offer a pre-CNA program for those interested in entering the field. It’s the position of resident service technician (RST), a paid position working alongside a CNA to get a feel for the job and how the community operates. RST training lasts 4-6 weeks, after which a 4-6 week CNA training period begins under the guidance of a mentor. A written exam is the last step in attaining CNA certification and the start of a career in senior care.

If this sounds interesting to you or someone you know, contact the skilled nursing community of your choice. We welcome your interest and are always looking for talented, compassionate new caregivers.