Lori J. Porter

I have always been a person who never just dips a toe in the water. I jump in whole hog! Most of the time it works very well for me. I’ve been this way as long as I can remember.

At the tender age of 18, I became a nursing assistant, not by choice but by trickery and coercion by my mother who was the Dietary Manager. I was less than excited about working evening shift as a nursing assistant. I had an active social life and a weak stomach.

Once I accepted my fate, however, I totally embraced it. As a matter of fact, a devout fan of the soap opera “General Hospital,” I let my new career go to my head. Always wanting to dress to impress, I immediately went shopping for uniforms. (Yes, they were uniforms, no scrubs in those days … and they were white.)

I tried several on. Seeing myself in the white uniform in the dressing room mirror immediately gave me a boost in my self-esteem. And I didn’t stop with the uniforms. I bought a white lab coat, a pocket protector, a penlight and a pair of bandage scissors.

The final purchase was my favorite: a beautiful red stethoscope from the glass display case. I could already see myself hurriedly working from room to room in my white uniform with the red stethoscope draped around my neck. Accessories can make or break an outfit, after all.

I showed up for work as a nursing assistant my first shift in my starched new white uniform and lab coat with the red stethoscope around my neck. I looked so professional, my mom, the Dietary Manager, took two Polaroid pictures before I clocked in. I hadn’t even done anything yet and I was already proud of myself, and it showed.

I had barely met my co-workers who would be training me when I heard the whispers and laughter behind my back … “Look at her in that lab coat, she thinks she’s a doctor!” Another one said, “Did you see her bandage scissors? I guess she is planning on doing some surgery later. “

This really dampened my spirits, but it made me more determined to be the best nursing assistant in the building, and I am thankful for that.

Looking back on it now, I do chuckle. I was a bit smug. I looked the role before I learned the role. Once I did learn the role though, I was the nursing assistant all the families wanted to care for their loved ones. I cherish my days as a nursing assistant and I still have my challenges keeping my self-esteem in check. A few years back, I had an experience, however, that made me realize the universe has a way of humbling us.

In my work, I do a great deal of motivational speaking and presentations to long-term care groups, owners, administrators and nursing directors. Talking is something that comes naturally to me — anyone who knows me will agree. I am not afraid to laugh at myself (and my friends) and recant embarrassing stories before hundreds of people.

Several years ago, I received a standing ovation … and it went straight to my head. I had never had a real standing ovation before — that is, one that I had truly earned and that wasn’t part of an office joke. I walked around for days with my chest puffed out and prancing around like I was Ms. Universe. People around me were growing tired of the big head I was now carrying on my shoulders.

They were right: I had a big head and thought I was the bomb! Four days after the standing ovation, I was still strutting my stuff. A friend called and asked if I wanted to go to Blockbuster and rent some movies. It was a Saturday and I just pulled on my jeans and T-shirt from the day before because I was planning on cleaning house all day.

So after a long morning of housecleaning, I went to rent movies where I strutted around like I was CEO of Blockbuster for about 45 minutes. I was looking over the new releases, when my friend came up behind me and said, “Oh my God, what is that?”

I looked down at my shoes and it was my underwear from the day before dangling from inside my pant leg. And not just a little bit either; it was the big girl panties (no thongs here) that I had dragged through the entire store.

So, go for it … jump in whole hog. We have much to be proud of in post-acute and long-term care. Hold your head high. Be proud of who you are and what you do!

And don’t worry, you can’t have too much pride or self-esteem. Remember, the universe has a way of humbling us. This was a lesson well learned; there is a system of checks and balances on self-esteem. No one has to burst your bubble, folks … when you get too stuck on yourself, you will have a nice humbling experience such as dragging your dirty panties around behind you.

Trust me, that will suck the coolness right out of you.

Lori Porter is a former certified nursing aide and nursing home administrator with more than 30 years’ experience in long-term care. She is co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Health Care Assistants, a professional association of and for nursing assistants. A nationally sought-after speaker on frontline caregiving issues, she also is the author of the book “Everything I Learned In Life I Learned in Long Term Care.”