Unappreciated & Underpaid: The Life of a Nursing Assistant

At any given time you can probably find an article discussing how unappreciated and underpaid nurses are, and in a lot of cases those articles have merit. I’ve known some amazing nurses in my time; most of them work hard and really don’t get paid enough for the things their job entails and the way they’re treated.

That being said, today I would like to talk about the people who aren’t discussed: Nurse’s Assistants. Generally these are Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA), Medical Assistants (MA) or Patient Care Technicians (PCT). And before anyone gets all huffy about it, yes, I am aware that RNs have to go through a lot more schooling to get their degree than a CNA or MA, but when it comes down to it, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the job they do.

Unappreciated & Underpaid

Similar Jobs, Different Treatment

I worked at a local hospital for two years. I was a Unit Clerk, meaning I sat at the desk and fielded patient requests, phone calls and other miscellaneous clerical duties. What I learned in that time is that, minus a few duties here and there, RNs and CNAs have pretty much the same job. However, the pay and respect difference is massive.

The unit on which I worked the most generally had four RNs and two CNAs on staff for a full unit of about 20 beds (and that’s generous). There were some great nurses that I was genuinely happy to work with. They were bright, cheerful and understood all that their job entailed.

However, on any given day, the majority of the clinical workload was put on the techs. Often, the nurses felt that their job was to push medications and to only push medications, and that it was the job of the techs to wipe asses and clean up vomit and all of the other less pleasant aspects of the job.

Now, I’m not denying that all of those unpleasant duties are a part of a tech’s job. They understand that, too. However, those unpleasant duties are also a part of the RN’s job. A nurse’s job is to take care of the patient, whatever that means, and to delegate what they cannot do. Not what they don’t want to do or don’t feel like doing, but what they cannot get done.

So, if the patient has had an accident and their nurse is busy with someone else, their technician is going to clean them up. If it’s a two-person job (which it usually is), it should be the tech and the nurse, but more often than not it will be both technicians while the nurse does something else, patient related or not.

Used, Abused & Underpaid

I cannot tell you how many times I would get a call from a patient and turn around to find their nurse sitting at a desk behind me while their tech was with another patient. I would tell the nurse what needed to be done, and the conversation would continue like this:

“Just tell the tech, I’m busy.” The RN would reply coldly without making eye contact with me. (Generally because they knew that I knew they weren’t actually busy.)

“The tech is cleaning up another patient.” I would reply.

“Ugh, whatever, the patient’s just going to have to wait, then.” The RN would say, again without making eye contact.

This would then turn into a game of “who is gonna break first?”, where the nurse would get up and find menial jobs to do just so that when the patient called again (and they would), the tech would be in front of me and I would have to tell them to take care of it.

On a daily basis, the techs were used and abused. They worked their asses off lifting patients, cleaning patients, feeding patients, etc., yet were treated as if they were expendable. There were times when the nurse would give me that bullshit up there and eventually I would go take care of the patient’s needs, even though technically I wasn’t allowed, because I felt bad for the patient or tech or both.

There were also times when the patient would have to call multiple times over a period of an hour and even though their nurse knew and was not in the middle of something, they would still pretend to be too busy until the tech took care of it.

As a Unit Clerk I made a little over $10 an hour. Every single technician that I spoke with made less than I did, even though their workload was 10 times what mine was. Every RN was at or over $20 an hour. I sat at a desk all day and the nurses mainly pushed medications, yet both of us made more than the people running around doing the dirty work.

Final Thoughts

I’m not here to bash nurses. There is no doubt that nurses have a tough job and that they deserve the money they make and more. The majority of them are good people who deserve the respect they’re given, as well. They are on their feet all day and are often abused and harassed by their patients and even the doctors (which, don’t even get me started on them). They should be treated with respect and dignity.

I’m here to start a dialogue about the people who aren’t discussed. The people who work as hard as nurses but get paid half (if that) of what nurses are paid. They are just as abused and harassed by their patients, but they’ve also got to deal with being overworked and treated badly by the nurses they work under.

Both jobs are difficult, there is no question about that, but I would argue that being a tech is more difficult because of the lack of respect and dignity given to those who do that job.