Coretta Lynn Watkins, CNA II

It Takes Heart to Work in Nursing

Fifteen year “veteran”, Coretta Lynn Watkins, was kind enough to share her thoughts about her career as a certified nursing assistant.  Coretta is someone who has done it all: working in home health, assisted living, skilled nursing care and hospitals.  Here is what she had to say:

When did you become a CNA?

In 1992, I moved from Illinois to North Carolina. Two years later, I attended Sandhills Community College in Raeford, NC to become a CNA I.  Five months later, in March, 1995, I was certified as a CNA II. 

Why did you decide that nursing was the career for you ?

I grew up in a single parent home where my mother provided for us by working at a doctor’s office.  Later, she attended school and obtained her LPN (licensed practical nurse) degree.  My mother worked as an LPN for 40 years at Hines Veteran’s Hospital in Hines, Illinois, retiring this year at the age of 75!  My aunt also worked as RNs at the same hospital.  These strong women laid the foundation for me, proving that if you have the heart to work in nursing, you will have a job for life.  

Even so, I tried many things before becoming a nursing assistant.  When I moved to North Carolina, I realized the job choices were different from what was available in Illinois (where I had always worked with people).  I tried factory work; then, I did some fast food work.  One day, I received a Sandhills Community College catalog and reviewed my choices.  In my heart, I knew that I wanted to enter the nursing field and work in a hospital like my mother and aunt.

What was the CNA training like?  

In 1994, when I decided to become a CNA, I was a single parent and there were funds available to pay for my training, textbook and transportation.  I jumped right on it!  When I received my Nursing Assistant book I was hooked even more to learn about taking care of people.  I still have that textbook! 

The training was hard…you had to go home and study every day and be prepared for tests and hands on skills. What I liked best about the training was that I had a great teacher who wanted us to succeed.  I really loved it when we started doing clinicals. For my CNA I training, we went to nursing homes and for CNA II training, we went to a clinic and a hospital.    The most challenging thing about becoming a CNA is the state exam and the hands-on skills testing.

In your class, did you meet a wide range of people?  For example, were there students of different ages, different background's, etc?

It was not a big class. I was 29 at the time…there were some students older than me and maybe a few younger. We had only one male in our CNA class.  Most of my class from the CNA I training returned and completed CNA II at the very next opportunity.  We all had different backgrounds—some were changing fields from working at stores or factories and some had been housewives. 

How was the CNA certification test?  What can you tell us about that experience?

I can remember that it was hard, but I put a lot of time into study and was very well prepared.  The hands-on skills test was also challenging because on the day of the test you did not know which skills you would have to do.  It was very difficult being watched and trying to remember all the steps.  At that time, we did everything on the same day…we took our test and then went right into the hand-on skills portion.  Now, I believe it is broken up into two days.

There are many different healthcare setting that employ nursing assistants.  In what sort of setting do you like to work and why?

When I obtained my CNA I certification, I worked at a few home health agencies. I have also worked at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. My CNA II clinical experience was at Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, North Carolina.  That got my foot in the door.  They saw my potential and let me start a few weeks before I got my CNA II certification.  That was in February of 1995. 

After thirteen years, I decided to try something different, so I went to work at a prison as a patient care technician/med tech.  Then, this summer, I returned to Moore Regional Hospital and was so glad they had a position available on my same floor that I left!  I love the hospital setting. While some employees leave, there are many who stay for years.  It’s easy to develop positive relationships as you work together to take care of patients.  The hospital setting is very busy and I like that. 

I love my job as a Nursing Assistant because I love helping to take care of people.  I love the role that I play on the health care team. Moore Regional Hospital gave me the opportunity to become a Patient Care Technician.  I have been trained to assist with clerical work such as processing physician orders.  I am always learning things at the hospital and they help me get all of my education hours needed to maintain my CNA status.

What is the best part of your job?  What would you change about your job if you could?

I love the Nursing staff that I work with. Some of them have been nurses for 20+ years and they help the new nurses who come on the floor to adjust to the journey they are about to begin.  I would not change anything about my job.  Everyone knows that First Health of the Carolina's Moore Regional Hospital is growing, provides good customer service and serves the people in my community and the surrounding areas.

Do you plan to work as a CNA for some time or are you thinking about advancing your health care career?

I am 45 years old now and have worked as a nursing assistant for fifteen years.  And, I have always been dedicated.  (For example, on November 19, 1996, I worked an eight hour shift at Moore Regional and gave birth to my son, Joshua, before midnight that same day!)  I have set goals for myself and will continue to advance in the healthcare profession.  I have also taken college courses, medication technician training/certification, medication aide and phlebotomy training and continuing education courses.

Do you feel the average American understands the role of the CNA?  If not, how would you describe your job to them?

I don't think the average American understands the role of the Certified Nursing Assistant.  Nursing Assistants are trained by licensed Registered Nurses.  We work under the direction and supervision of licensed health care professionals such as doctors and nurses.  Our education does not stop once we receive our CNA certification.  We continue to receive more education and training at our place of employment.  We know our scope of practice and perform according to the policies and procedures of our workplace.  We are part of a team of health care professionals who have chosen nursing assisting as a job.  You see Nursing Assistants in patient’s homes, in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, hospitals and doctors’ offices.  Some CNAs are also phlebotomists, do EKGs and so much more.  We are here to help and that is what I think a lot of people don't understand.   On this journey as a Nursing Assistant, there are times when I have been disrespected or treated as if I don’t know anything.  It is time that Americans realize that Nursing Assistants have an important job.  It should be respected just as much as a Nurse’s job.  CNAs benefit our communities and society as a whole.

What would you say to people who are interested in becoming nursing assistants?

Nursing Assistants play an important role in the health care profession.  It can be more than just a job--it can be your career if you do it long term.  When you consider becoming a nursing assistant, it is important to realize the commitment and dedication to the job that is required.  Job knowledge, work attendance, flexibility, and the ability to communicate with people are most important.  Many CNAs complain about the pay, but you have to stay on the job long enough to reap the benefits and get raises. There is always room for advancement (such as becoming an LPN or RN) or it may lead you to other areas in the health care field.   Nursing Assistant is not a job you get because life is punishing you; it is a job given to those who have a big heart, compassion and understanding.  To anyone interested in becoming a nursing assistant, I suggest visiting a nursing home or hospital first.  Also, talk to other nursing assistants who have experience.  I can tell you that working as a CNA can be a very rewarding experience.  Having my nursing assistance certification has helped me provide for my family for the past 15 years.         

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