'Most important part of that job is the people part of it': Meet Iain White, dietary aide and health-care hero
White, 19, works at a long-term care facility in Kingston, Ont.
Originally published on July 9, 2021
Taking the time to be human, to be kind, and to treat people as if they're people. That's what makes a health-care hero, says Nicole Kasserra.
White Coat, Black Art asked Canadians to nominate an unsung health-care hero of the pandemic — someone who made a difference. Kasserra nominated her 19-year-old son, Iain White, a dietary aide at a long-term care facility in Kingston, Ont.
"It's become clear during the pandemic that his [Iain's] friendship with the clients he serves has been not only a source of something positive during the pandemic for him, but also for them, especially during the lockdown when they could have no visitors," said Kasserra.
She wanted to highlight the unglamourous, behind-the-scenes work of dietary aides who plate, prep and serve food to residents while offering connection and comfort, particularly during lockdowns.
The mother of two said she has watched her youngest son grow.
"When you're 19 years old and all of a sudden your life comes to a screeching halt because there's a pandemic … and then you know you work with vulnerable clients, which puts even more pressure on you — to embrace that, to deal with that positively and not see it as a pain, I think that makes him a hero."
Mother and son spoke to White Coat, Black Art host Dr. Brian Goldman about White's work as a dietary aide at Ontario's Extendicare Kingston and his connection with its residents.
Here is part of their conversation.
Nicole, most moms I know are pretty proud of their sons. So how do you know that he's a health-care hero?
Kasserra: He cares about these people. He tells us about these people, and they're just wonderful stories about the things he's learned from the lives that they have lived or are living while they're there.
I'm a history teacher. There's always more to learn, and there's always more stories to hear. And I love that he's able to get one-on-one interaction with someone who can share their experiences so that he can really learn.
Iain, how many clients do you feed on a shift?
White: Well, technically, with my job, I don't have to feed any. That's up to the PSWs, but I find I go out of my way and I'll try to feed two or three a meal if I can, just because generally the PSWs are often running around full speed and have enough of their own work to do. And I like the time if I can sit for a couple of minutes and help them eat breakfast or dinner and ... it's a good time to kind of engage them in conversation.
So when I'm sitting there and feeding them, it kind of gives me a chance to connect with them more, even if it's only a few minutes of my day.
Kasserra: I'm just very moved by that. First of all, it's just that simple act of kindness, taking time to listen. It can be very difficult … when you're dealing with any patient that has a memory problem, whether it's from dementia or trauma, to just patiently listen to something you've heard over and over again.
It's one of the reasons why I think Iain's a health-care hero and other people that are in those kinds of roles that just take the time to be human, be kind and to treat people as if they're people.
And when he goes in to do his job … he's got the routine down. But he also understands that the most important part of that job is the people part of it.
Now, in restaurants, servers from time to time bear the brunt of unsatisfied customers. Residents complain about the food.
White: I've had a few plates thrown at me, tables, all types of cutlery, everything that way.
Some people would react to plates being thrown in their general direction with an understandable fear response. So how did you react when that happened?
White: I think for someone in my position, you just kind of have to take a step back. Y ou can't take it personally, because a lot of the time they have nothing against you.
They just are confused and don't know what's going on. And it makes everything much more difficult for them.
Where does that wisdom come from with you?
White: I'm not sure, to be honest. I think a lot of it comes with time.
It's just something I want to do rather than feel like I have to do.- Iain White
I've been there for about two years now, and I've noticed over the last year I've kind of come a long way with my understanding of all these illnesses.
But I think also just another part comes from the way I was raised, like kind of trying to go the extra step to be kind and look out for people that way. And I think that's just kind of set me up for success because it's second nature to me in this job.
It's just something I want to do rather than feel like I have to do.
Q&A edited for length and clarity.
Produced by Amina Zafar and Jeff Goodes.