- Bedside Voices
This issue of Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics features ten stories of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) who work primarily in long-term care. This is a voice of direct care at the bedside that is not often heard. The addition of these stories in the literature is long overdue and I am honored to be asked to comment. There is much to learn from these bedside caregivers. All of these stories reflect the deep struggle to be respected as a member of the health care team. But I also hear the pain of being caught in the tension between the desire to be skilled, qualified, and professional and the desire to be present in a way that emphasizes service, caring and common human touch. My commentary is informed by my experience in Rural Bioethics and my work at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado which has a commitment to Interprofessional Education. The CNAs' stories reveal much that they share with other health care professionals, but also some unique features that can teach us much.
Self Care and Being Cared For
The voice of the CNA is a voice that is echoed in a way by all health care professionals. Each of the stories bears witness to the need to take care of yourself and to be cared for in order to be able to continue to care for others. Leilani Roseberry writes "This unresolved grief and constant exposure to dying and death had me looking at every day, even every moment, through the eyes of a dying person. This is an emotion that is very difficult to put into words." She continues elsewhere, "I believe that if I had grief support opportunities available to me in my professional life, my level of care and compassion would have been much more resilient from the very beginning of my work as a CNA. Instead, only after sorting through emotions affecting my personal life and learning they were a compilation of what I experienced professionally, only then have I become much more resilient in the face of grief and mourning." Danny Reed writes, "Caregivers benefit from the same thing patients and residents do: genuine kindness. Take care of the caregivers because one day they will be all you have left in the world." And from James Bradley, "The work itself can be very draining, but to beat the stress of it, you can follow all the usual stuff like going for walks, playing with your kids, watch TV etc. The best advice though is to, as far as possible, leave the work behind when you walk off at the end of your shift. That may be the hardest thing to do but it is the only way to retain the correct professional approach."
Self care can certainly be about boundaries and stress management. Health care institutions, including professional schools, increasingly have wellness programs (Johnson, 2000). It was once thought that [End Page 159] professional and emotional distance was necessary to maintain healthy relationships and avoid burn out. But current thinking seems to indicate the opposite. If a health care professional views his or her work only in terms of tasks to be performed without some connection to the meaning of what he or she is doing for the patient as a human being, that person is more likely to burn out (Halpern, 2003). Bradley's use of "correct professional approach" prompted me to think beyond wellness and health to the need to nurture meaning in one's work. The CNAs' essays are filled with the call to recognize the deeper meaning of their work. Tracy Dudzinski writes, "Most people think anyone can do this job. I thought that myself, twelve years ago. But now I know that it takes someone special. Direct care workers do not do this work because they are getting rich. They do it because they love the work and because it is the right thing to do. This is the hardest job I have ever done but it is also the most rewarding job I have ever done."
There is increasing attention to the use of reflective writing in...