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By Brianna Wilson

Health Care Workers Week: Prioritizing a Career and Life

Health Care Workers Week is a chance to recognize health care teams who work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of their fellow community members. A vivid reminder of their dedication happened during the global COVID-19 pandemic, when countless lives and careers were turned upside down and health care workers’ demands were multiplied in unprecedented ways. It was during that time of uncertainty when UNM Health team member Valerie Miles was determined to press forward in her field, even if meant shifting to a new role.

Miles worked as a nursing assistant for nearly 15 years before COVID-19 changed her life as she knew it. She and her husband decided it would be best for her to stay at home with their three children, while he continued to work as a registered nurse.

“I stayed home with my kids for all of 2020,” Miles said. “Then, my husband told me about an online medical assistant course.”

Miles said she could not pass up the opportunity to help her community, for increased financial stability and family time that this career change would offer. So, by November 2020, Miles started her nine months of schooling through Carrington College in Albuquerque. She balanced caring for her kids full-time while also making the two-hour drive from Gallup to Albuquerque twice a week.

“Being a medical assistant is worth it, especially if you need something different in a short amount of time. I learned more about me and what I am capable of doing.”

Valerie Miles, CCMA, UNM Health Specialty Care Clinic, Gallup, NM

“It was very doable,” she said. “I only had to be online from about 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and my kids were in online school then too, so it worked out great.”

Eventually, Miles’ hard work paid off. Since 2021, she has been working as a clinical certified medical assistant (CCMA) at The University of New Mexico Health Specialty Care Clinic, a UNM Hospital clinic in Gallup, New Mexico.

More on Medical Assistants (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

  • Medical assistants take patients’ vitals, schedule appointments, and help with other clinical and administrative work.
  • Medical assistant employment is predicted to grow by 14% by 2032.
  • There are close to 114,600 job openings for medical assistants reported in the U.S. each year.

Read more here

In her new role, Miles said she loves that she still gets to interact with patients, taking their vitals, prepping their rooms and scheduling their appointments, but she also enjoys interacting with more providers. So, she assists doctors and nurse practitioners with maternal fetal medicine, adult hematology, pediatric dermatology, and gynecology.

“It feels good knowing that there is a place here in Gallup, especially UNM, providing a lot for the locals,” Miles said. “Even reservation areas like Zuni, Crownpoint, Chinle, Piñon, they may be an hour or two away from Gallup. So, this is the closest place for them.”

She said the work is less physical as well, and her schedule is more predictable than when she was a nursing assistant, something that helps Miles balance her role as health care worker and as a mom.

“It is just straight Monday through Friday, eight hours, all weekends and holidays off, I love it,” Miles said. “Being a medical assistant is worth it, especially if you need something different in a short amount of time. I learned more about me and what I am capable of doing. The pay does not hurt, and my body is happy.”

Miles said her family is also happy to spend more time with her and she with them.

“I am spending a lot more time with my kids,” she said. “I am attending practices and going to games with them. We are all able to be at home together in the evening.”

If you too would like to become a source of positive change in your community as a health care professional, UNM offers support and resources.

Click here to learn more about Communities to Careers programs that may be the perfect fit for you.

Categories: Communities to Careers, Diversity, Health, Top Stories, UNM Hospital