Glamorizing Caregiving

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on November 02, 2015 # Caregiving

When it comes to the future of caregiving, we have an image problem. It doesn't matter if they are called home health aides, certified nursing assistants, personal care attendants, the direct care workforce or a familiar first name, like "Mom;" they perform the same important work. For the sake of continuity, I am going to refer to all of them as caregivers throughout this blog. The work they do is critical for those of us who are paralyzed, and just as important to millions of people around the world who are aging and losing the abilities that once enabled them to complete their activities of daily living on their own.

Now, about that image problem; this noble profession is too often viewed as underpaid, and even unappreciated, in the world of employment. The result is that many young people do not seek out the minimal education or training required to work in this field; those who do are often scooped up by hospitals and similar institutions that require licenses and certifications from all employees in order to meet insurance or state licensing requirements for their businesses. When that happens, these caregivers may not be available to provide the home-based care that allows many of us to continue living independently in the community.

We need to work together to convince more potential recruits that entering this field is the best career choice they can make for their immediate and long-term futures. Those who help us are extremely important to our ability to remain independent and healthy, whether living at home or in an institutional setting. It may be pushing it to claim that this is a glamorous profession, but we need to start convincing young people that caregiving is a desirable occupation.

Doctors, teachers and nurses are invited to speak at school "career days," as are dentists, soldiers, accountants, firemen, policemen, carpenters, attorneys and IT professionals. Many of the presenters standing in front of those impressionable young minds have been required to earn college degrees, or more, in order to attain success in their fields. What percentage of those kids are likely to do the same? Their careers may instead be as gardeners, construction laborers, baristas, telemarketers, truck drivers, fast food workers or sales clerks. In light of the importance of the work caregivers do, it would seem that they should be invited to speak as a member of whatever groups are giving career advice to young people.

The idea of glamorizing the profession of caregiving may seem overly ambitious, but it is only one in a series of steps that need to be taken if we expect to have the number of personnel available that will be needed as demand increases for their service. The anticipated wave of retiring baby boomers is upon us, but it is more like a tsunami than a mere wave. Thousands of individuals who were looking forward to an active retirement are waking up retired, but in no physical condition to remain active unless they have daily assistance in doing so; welcome to the world of dependency.

Following are a few ideas that might help attract more young people to consider caregiving. They are simple steps:

Start young. Grammar school is not too young. Are there any children's books that tell about life as a caregiver, the important role they play, or even describe what caregivers do? If so, they should be made available in every grade school library and in classrooms where those youngsters are taught to prepare for their futures.

Discontinue junior high or high school shop and home economics classes, and replace them with courses called medical specialties. Learning more about the human body, including how it works and how to care for it, can be useful for everyone to know and can also be a stepping stone when it comes to choosing a future career. Visiting faculty who are already employed in the field can explain what they do, and what they had to do in order to train for and perform their jobs.

Share or replicate exceptional recruitment tools. Job postings, recruitment materials or position descriptions that are innovative and positive need to become available for use by everyone seeking caregivers. They might focus on such positives as:

Get educated, without student loans -- earn professional certifications in a short time, without the extended college educations required in many professions.

Paid "internships" available while you learn -- many caregiving positions do not require certificates or licenses, so it is possible to begin working in this field while attending classes. Gain valuable job skills that are transferable to a variety of medical specialties while helping those who need care.

Flexible work hours -- choose a position that suits your needs, as care is needed up to 24 hours per day in many different work environments.

Work close to home -- potential employers needing care are located in individual homes or institutional settings throughout every community.

Relaxed dress codes -- wear comfortable, casual clothes while working in private homes, or dress in inexpensive scrubs like other medical professionals when employed in hospitals, nursing homes, etc: No need to purchase suits and ties, or similar expensive "office wear."

Potential for paid travel -- people who need the assistance of caregivers on a daily basis also need those services while they travel. Whether that travel is for business or pleasure, the convenience of having a familiar helper along with them on the road makes this a perfect opportunity to have all travel expenses paid while earning pay at the same time.

A fulfilling career, that makes a difference -- there are very few vocations that have the potential to make a real difference in the lives of others on a daily basis. This is one of them, as the nature of care required to assist with the activities of daily living and the close relationship between the caregiver and those who need the assistance provide a unique opportunity to do just that.

That list of talking points probably falls short of glamorizing the profession of caregiving, but we need to start somewhere to get future generations excited about exploring the opportunities and entering a field that is absolutely critical to maintaining our health and ability to remain independent. We need them, and will need even more of them very soon.

© 2015 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.