By Elyse Notarianni
What sets COHME apart isn't just the services the company offers – it's the people who dedicate themselves to providing expert, caring and compassionate at-home care for older adults. Angela McMillian fully embodies what sets COHME's home health aides apart.
Angela became a home health aide at 21 years old and has excelled in the profession for more than 20 years. Let's get to know a little more about Angela:
What made you want to enter this field?
My dad died in 1995 when I was 14 years old. I was one of the main people taking care of him – but there was so much I didn’t know. I didn't understand HIV then. When you watch someone leave this Earth over such a prolonged period, you want to be there to help.
At that time, I knew that one day I wanted to be the person who could be by someone's side right at the very end. Everything I do now reminds me of that moment because if I knew then what I know now, or if medicine then was what it is now, things may have been different.
What was it like when you first became a home health aide?
I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field, but I didn't know exactly in what way. So when I first became a home health aide, it was just a job – and it wasn't easy. But when you're in a challenging job, it forces you to either decide it's not the right place for you or completely embrace it as the right kind of challenge. When I started to embrace it, I could see the meaning behind the work. I began to understand how older adults live and think, their challenges, and how much joy and gratitude they can have.
I learned to have a lot of patience, and I learned a lot about myself and others. I thought of my mother, father and grandparents — as the people I love get older, I wanted someone to be there for them, so I treat every client like my family.
What do you like about working with older adults?
I especially love working with older clients because there's so much to learn from them when you take the time to talk and listen.
I learn a lot about how people live differently than I do. One of my first clients was Kosher, and I had no idea what that was at the time. I learned, and it gave me a better understanding of their background and faith. There are so many examples where my worldview has changed just because of the people I've met.
They have so many great stories to share, and they make me want to ask questions — I've had clients who have fought in wars, and they've sat and talked to me about what that was like. I had one client who walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. Those are the types of stories we'll lose unless we spend time talking with older adults.
What has been challenging in this role?
Older adults aren't always easy. Sometimes, the tasks you have to do to help them with their day-to-day lives are hard. Sometimes, their personality can be difficult. Sometimes, the family can be a problem. I've had to learn to take the good with the bad and handle difficult situations in a strong but professional way.
Some issues are harder than others. I've dealt with a lot of racism, especially from clients with Alzheimer's. I knew it wasn't them, that it was the disease, and I had to learn to give them more understanding and still provide care.
How have your career goals changed over the years?
I work with love and compassion, and everyone who has encountered me has said I should be a nurse. I've always wanted to further my education, but that's not easy. Working with COHME, they've helped me get back to school so I can keep growing in this field.
In 2004, I became a medical assistant and got my EKG certification. Now, I'm back in school to become a nurse with support from COHME. Right now, I work with clients at night and study during the day.
It's not easy — I have to work studying into my day wherever I can — but I've had amazing clients who have helped support me as well. Last semester, I worked through the semester and still got a 4.0.
It's tough, but it's something I've always wanted. I know the end of the rainbow is close.
Are you a different person because of this work?
In every way. I'm more compassionate, empathetic, patient, and understanding. I'm stronger because I know when, and how, to stick up for myself. I'm more driven because I knew I had opportunities to advance my career, and I knew it was my job to take advantage of it.
But most importantly, this work makes me face the kind of person I want to be by the end of my life. I'm constantly thinking of what I want to have achieved by then, what kind of person I want to be and what type of memory I want to leave.
Some people forget to focus on that until it's too late. Not me.