As I write this column, I have had to tell my two youngest sons to “be quiet” at least a 100 times, and that is not an exaggeration. Why have I had to tell them this? My 21-year-old daughter is attempting to sleep for a few hours, so she can transition her awake time to nights for the next five days.

Haley is a third-year nursing student at Viterbo University, and, like many college students, she works. Rather than flipping burgers or making coffee drinks, she has chosen to be more hands-on with patients, which can only enhance her skills as a future nurse.

Haley works the graveyard shift at a nursing home, and to be honest, it is not a job I could do. It takes a special person to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in a nursing home.

A typical night for Haley includes answering call lights, hourly rounding (meaning she has to walk in to see each resident on her list to make sure they are OK), and at midnight, 2 a.m., and 4 a.m., she repositions residents who are at risk for bedsores. For residents who are bathing, she prepares their rooms with fresh linens.

To Haley, the best part of her job is “making residents happy by helping them with anything they may need but also preserving their dignity and autonomy as a person.”

Haley has come home with many a heartwarming story, including this one:

She had a resident who was unable to shuffle his playing cards while attempting a game of solitaire. She went in to check on him, and over the course of an overnight shift she shuffled his cards five or six times and helped him lay out solitaire. He told her thank you multiple times and commented how no one else had noticed him struggle and shuffled for him.

Shortly after that evening, that particular patient passed away, but she caught one last glimpse of that deck of cards the evening his family came to clean out his room.

It takes a special person to work in a nursing home, but it is one I am confident that she has chosen carefully and takes great pride in. Her stories often bring tears to my eyes when I see the attachment she has with residents in her care.

Haley chose to be a CNA for multiple reasons with regard to her future as a registered nurse. She says, “I have seen residents in their most vulnerable state, so it is helping me see vulnerability of all types, which will help my bedside manner. Also, without sounding crude, I think I have seen some of the most unpleasant things at the nursing home, so I feel it is preparing me for less-than-pleasant scenarios that will be less shocking when encountered in the future.”

By working directly with residents and their families, CNAs have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of people. As Haley’s mom, I see daily how important this is to her. As a family member who has visited her grandma, aunts, and mother-in-law in nursing homes, it is easy to see those who feel the same as Haley and, unfortunately, those who are there to just get paid.

Being a CNA is a great way to get experience while in college for nursing, or for those who wonder if nursing is the right career path. Becoming familiar with the world of health care is important in helping you decide whether you want to be in it or not.

Haley has found her CNA career to be enriching and rewarding, and she cherishes each person she has had the opportunity to meet and take care of.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to

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