18 Professional Carers Talk Honestly About The Reality Of Their Jobs
For professional care workers the pressure can be extreme, and there is as much joy as frustration to be found in their work.
"I must be vigilant, no matter how demanding it gets."
I've been in care work for more than five years now, and it never fails to surprise me. My job is to assist in the promotion of my clients' independence, and that's what's on my mind when I'm doing the physical work of caring: the wellbeing of the service user. I must be vigilant, no matter how demanding it gets. It's a challenge every day, but I enjoy it. The reward is in helping those who would otherwise struggle, and it gives me great comfort.
One thing within the care process that needs changing would be for carers to have a greater knowledge of their clients. Sometimes carers get so involved with their work, they forget to see people as more than just a "service user".
I do wish people had a greater understanding of and appreciation for what carers do. It's a job I often hear people say they could never do, but I never believe that: Anyone could do this job. But the difference between good and great carers is that great carers see it as more than just a job. They really know their service users, and how much they contribute to their lives. I wish people knew that about great carers.
– Richard Warren
"We don't just make people cups of tea."
What I'd like people to understand is that we don't just make people cups of tea. With enabling, we get people straight out of hospital, either when beds are full or their time in treatment has ended. More often than not, they use us as temporary nurses for serious cases (cancer, heart attacks) until they can find a qualified nurse.
I work in shifts: some mornings, some afternoons, some evenings and weekends. But as you're dealing with people, you have to fit around them – if an 81-year-old doesn't want breakfast at 9am you're not going to win. This can also manifest as a lack of trust: If someone with, for example, schizophrenia doesn't trust you, you're not going to be able to treat them that day.
"A smile can go a long way."
A smile can go a long way, especially with confused elderly patients. It's great to know that just a simple gesture can break through their cloudiness and make them happy.
"I'd love for us to adopt a more holistic approach."
Many of the people that I care for have dementia. This means that they are often very confused and disorientated, and need lots of reassurance. It can be very challenging, as dementia is progressive, which means it will only get worse over time.
What often goes through my mind when doing the very physical side of caring is unfortunately the lack of staff to meet residents' needs – that seems to be a recurring theme in the industry. It's particularly frustrating when you can see very grand descriptions that some care homes give themselves, as compared with the reality you can be confronted with.
One of the ways that caring has surprised me is the stigma that still exists for people with mental health issues, even amongst other health care professionals. Undoubtedly for some types of mental illness – like depression – the taboo has been broken down: People are more willing to talk about it openly. But in the case of say, schizophrenia, it's sad to say that this does not seem to be the case.
When I worked on the wards, it was so rewarding to see people who had come into the hospital acutely unwell make a good recovery – sometimes within a matter of weeks. One of the things that I would change would be try to move away from the reliance on medication: much of my time is spent dispensing medication (I did a drug round once that took me four hours). I'd love for us to adopt a more holistic approach: more quality time with the residents.
One thing that I would like people to know about care is that it is not synonymous with abuse and failing standards. I have seen excellent care being given to residents, and It would be nice if the media in particular would let the public know of the positive side of the care industry.
– John Warren
"We don't just wipe people's bums. We give them the best exit to their life."
How do I put it? Physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. I'm not gonna write how much we do and how unappreciated we are. Or how compassionate we are. Or how little we are paid for what we do. Or how tired we are after our shifts. Or how I have no idea how I got through some of the sights I've seen. Or how much I fucking hate the ones that do this job horrifically. But this is about them, the ones we do it for. The ones that need a helping hand, listening ear, and someone to care.
It has its days, like most jobs. Trust me, being hit, scratched, punched, and sworn at is difficult to say the least. But I promise you the good days make this job the best job in the world. I've seen my fair share of care plans, bowel charts, urine dips, bed pans, and the rest of it. But the smiles and the priceless feeling of knowing I make a difference to someone's life? That's amazing. They are amazing.
So no, we don't just wipe people's bums. We give them the best exit to their life the best way we can.
"The hardest thing is knowing you can't get too attached as they won't be with you forever."
I have worked in care for more than three years. I have worked in two nursing homes, one where I looked after people with dementia, which was physically and mentally draining. Now I work in a home looking after people with dementia and others who need assistance with their daily routine.
I love my job because I love learning and getting to know these people. I think sometimes the hardest thing is knowing you can't get too attached as they won't be with you forever, but it's very hard. Another thing I find hard is when the care sector gets such bad press because a few people have abused their privileges of being a carer. There's good and bad everywhere so we shouldn't be looked at as a whole in a negative way, as there are so many people delivering the best standard of care out there. I don't see myself working anywhere else but a care environment. Every day can be a new challenge but I wouldn't change it for the world.
"One of the biggest challenges of this job is remaining level-headed."
I work in the emergency department with psychiatric patients who have just had psychosis episodes. One of the biggest challenges of this job is remaining level-headed yourself. Some of the people that I encounter have horrible lives, which gets to me because I wish nothing more than that I could help them. As a caregiver, you can't fix every situation, and that's tough. I wish people would realise how much we really care. Yes, some people don't, but the majority do. You will be rewarded tremendously by how much your patients appreciate it.
"I would've loved more time to spend with the residents."
I worked as a carer in a care home for people with dementia as my first job, aged 17. I found it an incredibly rewarding experience, knowing I was making a difference to the lives of our residents, but also heartbreaking to watch as their health deteriorated.
I wish that people had an understanding of how difficult it is to be a carer – we had five of us on shift looking after up to 52 residents. When the relatives of the residents would come in and complain that bed sheets hadn't been ironed or we hadn't finished the laundry I found it very frustrating – we don't not do things because we don't want to, we just simply don't have the time!
I would've loved to have had more time to spend with the residents, but sadly there's so much pressure to complete other tasks (laundry, ironing, vacuuming, washing up) that no matter how hard you try, there's just never time!
"It isn't just about the money. We make very little."
I am a certified nursing assistant (CNA), and I work in home healthcare. There are many struggles that accompany this particular field. In particular, I deal with "gross" things on a daily basis. Faeces, urine, bodily fluids, you name it. However, the pros heavily outweigh the cons. And after doing it for a while, the "grossness" of your job becomes just that: a part of the job.
For most people, this is more than just a job. It isn't just about the money, which we make very little of. It even is not about the praise you get for being in the nursing field. It's about inexplicably touching the lives of other people. You are more than just another face, another name, another disease. Your accomplishments are ours as well. Your improvements are ours as well. Even if they seem meaningless. Your happiness is ours as well.
"We get to leave our work behind in the physical sense, but [family members] live with it."
What always amazes me is the families of patients that live with them. How even though they are tired and aching to the bone, they will do anything they can to help their loved ones. They didn't ask for this job, they don't get paid, yet they are up all hours of the night, whenever they are needed. We get to leave our work behind in the physical sense, but they live with it – they aren't able to switch off.
"It's all about balance."
I cared for numerous people as a nursing student and there were commonalities about each case, and ultimately, the decision I made to leave this profession was influenced by some of these common factors.
Being a carer is all about balance. Many people have a caring instinct but are not able to resolve this balance even after a lifetime of experience. Sacrifice and altruism are great strengths in being a carer, but if they come to dominate, the role becomes stressful, unrewarding, and ultimately destructive. I decided on the profession because I loved being around people, loved serving them, but primarily because I wanted job security. When I saw the reality that faces most healthcare workers, I knew that it was not for me, at least not in the broken health systems of the Western world.
"I could not effectively care for myself while having to play therapist to so many others."
I got my first long-term care job two years into my career. I cared deeply for my residents, and they came to love me. I gave them the level of care and attention I thought they deserved, even when it frequently meant I'd be late with other responsibilities, or was not able to take a break. It really took a toll on me, and I found myself resenting residents for needing so much of my time.
My problem was that I could not effectively care for myself while having to play therapist to so many others. In my mind, there was no way to downgrade my role in these people's lives because I had already asserted myself in this role. I lasted six months there. I've since moved to home health. I care for one very lovely little girl with special needs, and I'm starting to remember why I chose this profession.
Compassion fatigue is very real.
"Many families can't stand to see their loved ones go down the path of ageing, sickness or death."
I worked previously as a CNA and now as an EMT. My job as a CNA truly changed my life. The people I cared for taught me that we all deserve dignity and many people don't get it. Many families can't stand to see their loved ones go down the path of ageing, sickness or death. The caregivers and people that they care for become a family. We get mad at each other, we crack jokes, we share stories. It takes a certain soul to be a caregiver to those who can no longer care for themselves. The lessons I have learned from my residents will be with me for the rest of my life.
I am a nurse at a hospital in Boston. I absolutely love what I do. Yeah, there are times when I think, Man, a desk job would be great right now. But for the most part, my job gives me an experience that I could not get elsewhere. To be able to see some people in their most vulnerable times, and be able to provide hope, reassurance, or even just a shoulder is an amazing feeling to me.
I try to treat every patient as if they were someone close to me. Whenever I have a geriatric patient, I think to myself, How would I want my own grandmother or grandfather being treated in a hospital? Saying this to myself before I enter anyone's room puts things in perspective. While there are definitely times I have been annoyed at patients – drug-seeking patients, rude patients – or when I've been scratched, kicked, spit on, and insulted, I love my job. When I hear my patients say "thank you" or "I hope to see you again", it makes my shift.
"Sometimes, you are all they have."
Being a certified nursing assistant is more than just cleaning up after the elderly, sometimes you are all they have, the only connection to life outside the facility. You become their family, most trusted confidant, and advocate from those trying to take from them. It is the most amazing feeling to know I'm needed and what I do helps.
"I am not a carer because I want to be. But I am a bloody good carer."
I am a healthcare assistant at a care home for the elderly. My job title is "health care assistant" but my job role is essentially "slave" to the residents who are all wealthy and don't care how they treat you. And the nurses and managers can be rude and treat you the same.
We actually do the hardest and most stressful job in the company. Carers are expected to be superhuman, never to forget anything and never to make a mistake because god forbid we do that. We have residents who are not bed-bound calling the bell constantly to shout at you when we have residents who are bed-bound and love talking to you and cause no problem at all for you. They're the ones you're desperate to spend your day with but you can't, due to the management refusing to employ more staff.
I am not a carer because I want to be. I'm a carer because I have to be. I am better than this. But I am also a bloody good carer. I have a degree in music industries management but have been unlucky in finding a better job. I'm 22 years old, get worked like a dog, and earn only £6.50 an hour.
I scrape £900 a month so can never afford a car or flat. I'd stay in caring forever if I was paid the money that I deserve or, in fact, enough to live off of. Unfortunately, once you're a carer, you're stuck as a carer.
"It fills me with pride."
I'm a carer for elderly people, most of whom have dementia. It's one of the most difficult, yet rewarding jobs there is. Being a carer is so underrated. Being able to help someone empower themselves is an incredible feeling and it fills me with a sense of pride on a daily basis.
"After a while it becomes tiring and I feel emotionally exhausted."
I'm a carer in a residential home for people with long-term severe mental illness. We have 16 residents, and all but one are diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. I'm not going to lie to you, it's one of the toughest jobs. On a daily basis I am met with death threats, the worst insults you could imagine, and I am also occasionally sexually assaulted.
After a while it becomes tiring and I feel emotionally exhausted. I'm pretty much a parent to these individuals who are up to 50 years older than me. With some of them, I wake them for their meals, clean them, dress them, clean their rooms, manage their incontinence, escort them to appointments and daily outings. Their entire routine is down to me, and that's a hell of a lot of pressure. And you start to think, Am I doing enough? Is this making them happy? And the immediate response in my head is "no", because it's never enough. And it's heartbreaking, never being able to do enough for someone.
Throughout the abuse and the struggle, I often see the improvement in some of them and how much they have changed and it comforts me that I have helped them through that. I'm glad I can at least make their daily lives less of a struggle.
"There is a massive lack of compassion towards staff in this area of work."
I'm a carer in a community of about 350 elderly and disabled people.
There is a massive lack of compassion towards staff in this area of work. We all see the programmes with hidden cameras on them showing the worst staff, but you never see the ones where a member of staff has sat for three hours after their shift with someone dying because they have nobody else, or the staff who will come in on their day off to take somebody to a hospital appointment so the resident doesn't have to sit there alone.
As a manager, I see it from all angles, and I see the truly wonderful people that we employ to do the things families don't want to or can't do, and I see the doting families who would do absolutely everything for their loved ones. I've seen residents who have been on their death beds have family turn up who I didn't even know existed, and I've sat with people and held their hands as they took their last breaths. Emotionally, it's exhausting. Physically, it's exhausting, but when you've made someone's day by doing something that may seem insignificant to you, that's what makes it worth it.
Want to read more from the Carers' Issue? Shane Burcaw wrote about the hilarious and incredibly awkward realities of being cared for by loved ones. Alex Andreou described how caring for his mother gave him the best birthday he'd ever had. Tom Chivers pulled together 11 charts that show how care will evolve in the UK over the next several years. Halima Ali collected some of the secrets people caring for loved ones never tell you. People who are carers for their loved ones spoke honestly about its rewards and frustrations. Alex Taylor-Beal and Stephanie Crack talked about the change in their relationship when Alex became Stephanie's carer after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her second year of university.