Nursing Assistants' Week: An Expert's Advocacy Guide

“We’re in a crisis right now. And in another five to ten years, you better figure out who’s going to take care of you and yours when you’re older. Because the traditional pool of workers will no longer exist, and we need new avenues for staffing.”

Genevieve Gipson, Director of the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants (NNCNA Network)

Each day, over 4.5 million nursing assistants provide 80 to 90 percent of the direct care received by residents and clients in America’s long-term care facilities. This may include taking vital signs and helping residents with skincare, eating, bathing, and other daily activities; in certain states, it may involve dispensing medication. But nursing assistants, who can also go by other titles, such as nursing aides, geriatric aides, and direct care assistants, also bring significant intangible benefits like stability, companionship, compassion, and empathy to the long-term care setting, and develop strong relationships with their patients over the span of their stay.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for nursing assistants will grow by 8 percent over the next decade, a rate much faster than the national average for all occupations. An estimated 174,000 job openings for nursing assistants are expected every year.

But administrators also need to focus on retaining experienced nursing assistants: this is a profession with extremely high turnover, and the wisdom of experienced nursing assistants is a critical resource in the growth, training, and retention of new nursing assistants.

The 44th Annual Nursing Assistants’ Week takes place June 17-24, 2021, and the theme is “Kindness in Action.” It’s an opportunity to recognize the important work of the often overlooked nursing assistant profession, and to gain a better understanding of the compassionate care they provide to our nation’s elderly.

Being a nursing assistant isn’t an easy job, but it’s an essential one. To learn more, read on.

Interview with an Expert: Genevieve Gipson, RN, MEd, RNC

“We’re in a crisis right now,” Genevieve Gipson, RN, MEd, RNC, Director of the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants (NNCNA). “And in another five to ten years, you better figure out who’s going to take care of you and yours when you’re older. Because the traditional pool of workers will no longer exist, and we need new avenues for staffing.”

The retirement of the Baby Boomers is set to be one of the most impactful demographic shifts in history: the over-65 age group is the fastest-growing segment of the population, while the traditional pool of workers is declining. The effects of this are most felt in healthcare-related fields. Nursing assistants, who often work in long-term care facilities and directly with elderly populations, are on the front lines. This has led to a broad call for more nursing assistants, but simply adding new people to the workforce isn’t enough.

“We really need to shift our focus from recruiting new people, to keeping the good ones and then filling in the blanks,” Gipson says. “It’s a revolving door right now, and we need to look at how to stabilize this workforce.”

Part of the problem is in the pipelines that educate and train new nursing assistants today. Some new nursing assistants have only practiced clinical skills in a lab-based setting, and enter into the care setting without ever having physically touched a patient.

But to Gipson and many of her experienced colleagues, a warm approach and attending skills are important to patient engagement and patient relationships. These skills, most commonly found in experienced nursing assistants, are also some of the leading indicators of career longevity in the profession.

“Experienced nursing assistants will say that the relationship with the patient is what makes it all worthwhile,” Gipson says.

One way to address both that lack of experience with patients and the overall workforce shortage is through early education. Programs such as “Everyone A Caregiver” seek to make basic caregiving skills a standard feature of K-12 education. Aside from being a useful and universal skill to have, it can also incentivize more people to get involved in long-term care. In studies conducted through the National Honor Society, nearly 100 percent of experienced nursing assistant respondents said that they had an experience caring for an older person when they were young and that it was positive.

Unfortunately, even experienced nursing assistants aren’t immune from the high turnover of the profession. Too many find themselves overworked, unsupported, unrecognized, and unheard. It’s crucial that the nation do more to change that.

“The nursing assistant is a key player in the lives of her patients, and if all the nursing assistants disappeared, it’d only take a few minutes for the entire system to cave in,” Gipson says. “Nursing assistants provide the foundation of direct care in the healthcare system.”

The 44th Annual National Nursing Assistants’ Week is an opportunity to reward and recognize the caregivers who look after our loved ones in their time of need. From tangible rewards to policy changes and increased awareness, we can all do more to validate and improve the work-life of nursing assistants.

“There are so many opportunities to get involved,” Gipson says. “But there are also opportunities to do nice things for nursing assistants, and just saying thank you can be an important one. If someone sent a card to an NA, they might take it home and put it on their wall, or in a scrapbook, and value them. Because someone has said thank you.”

How to Get Involved in Nursing Assistants’ Week

Everyone benefits from the work of nursing assistants, and Nursing Assistants’ Week is a chance to give a little back. Whether you’re a nursing assistant, an administrator, a patient, or the family of a long-term care resident, you can get involved, too. Check out some of the resources below to learn more about how you can pitch in.

  • 50 Ways to Say Thank You to Nursing Assistants: When it comes to gratitude, a little goes a long way. Here are 50 easy options for you to show your support for the nursing assistant community.
  • 10 Steps for Planning Nursing Assistants’ Week: Designed for facility administrators and nursing assistant staff, this broadsheet offers tips for making the most out of Nursing Assistants’ Week.
  • National Honor Society for Nursing Assistants (Twenty Year Club): Designed to honor the nation’s most experienced nursing assistants, the Twenty Year Club hosts annual awards and meetups for nursing assistants to share knowledge and recognize hard work and dedication.
  • Mayoral Proclamation In Support of Nursing Assistants: Community awareness is a critical step in raising the profile of nursing assistants. Ask your mayor to sign a proclamation in support of the workers who provide hands-on care to our disabled and elderly citizens.
  • National Network of Career Nursing Assistants (NNCNA): The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants is a non-profit, tax-exempt, educational organization promoting recognition, education, research, advocacy, and peer support development for nursing assistants in nursing homes and other long-term care settings.
Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging topics in medical technology, particularly the modernization of the medical laboratory and the network effects of both health data management and health IT. In consultation with professors, practitioners, and professional associations, his writing and research are focused on learning from those who know the subject best. For, he’s interviewed leaders and subject matter experts at the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).