Corey Miller cares for elders in a local nursing home, providing an essential service to her community that’s also helping to clarify her career goals.
Global pandemics do not offer silver linings or golden opportunities. But they can open the door to new possibilities — of finding ways to move forward even in the most dire of times and to be of service while doing so. For Michigan Technological University student Corey Miller, a 2019 exercise science graduate working on her accelerated master’s degree in kinesiology, that means caring for elders at PortagePointe, a skilled rehabilitation facility in Hancock that offers 24-hour nursing care to 60 residents.
Making a Difference in Community Health
In 2016, Miller was among the first group of students to receive an $8,000 renewable Portage Health Foundation Making a Difference Scholarship, annually awarded to local students studying in a health-related field. As part of scholarship requirements, Miller and fellow 2016 recipients created and maintain a HOSA Future Health Professionals Club on campus. “We’ve helped Wellness promote health-related topics with bi-weekly Health Huts in the Library,” said Miller. “We also do other volunteer projects on campus — and are always coming up with new ideas.”
Miller, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), started work at PortagePointe during the 2020 spring semester and plans to continue through fall semester. It’s her second stint at the facility. She worked there part-time from 2016 to 2018 while completing her undergraduate degree. Michigan Tech students on the pre-health professional track and community health care providers have a long history of working together: students get time with mentors and interaction with patients while helping to fill essential needs.
“I was thinking about going back to PortagePointe after my undergraduate internship in Australia in the summer of 2019, but my academic schedule didn’t allow me to hold a part-time position,” said Miller, who hails from Calumet. “Before COVID-19 happened I was only able to apply for a ‘float,’ position, meaning I would get two shifts per month. Once classes moved online I was able to pick up a position and can maintain it going into my final semester of courses before my master’s internship in the spring.”
Where does one learn that kind of flexible thinking? Miller credits two years of study abroad experiences.
“Semester at Sea allowed me to travel to 12 different countries on a ship for four months during fall 2018,” she said. “I learned that things don’t always go according to plan and being able to adapt to changes is important. I continued with this philosophy traveling in Australia doing my undergrad internship, and when I made a side trip to South America after.”
The CNA job underscores the multigenerational dimension of Miller’s health and wellness training and outreach. In addition to working with older people, she’s on staff with Michigan Tech’s Student Health and Wellness, and is also working to educate both college students and teens about the dangers of vaping. She also did some work related to integrative physiology PhD candidate Joshua Gonzalez’s research on the effects of vaping on healthy young adults, but feels her strengths lie in the interactive education component rather than the lab.
Returning to work at PortagePointe during the state of Michigan's stay-home order required extra precautions. Miller took additional training to ensure proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety measures required to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The work is physically demanding, but providing my elders with the highest quality of care is worth all the running around I do,” she said, adding that it’s been hard for residents to not be able to have visitors inside the facility. Somebody needs to cheer them up — and that somebody is quite often Miller.
"I am kind of a goofball who is always smiling and dancing around the facility. Keeping an upbeat personality helps keep the elders cheerful most of the time."
In return, her elders have inspired new possibilities as she considers what’s next after MTU.
“For a long time, I’d thought I wanted to be a medical doctor. Realizing that wasn’t what I wanted was hard,” she said. “Coming back to the nursing home and working with elders who are doing their walking programs has helped me think about a doctorate of physical therapy (DPT). My major checks all the prerequisite boxes. I just need to get more shadowing hours with a DPT.”
Like many caregivers, Miller acknowledges that she tends to be a “workhorse” and is better at advocating self-care than doing it. But she makes a conscious effort.
“I try to intertwine things I enjoy doing with things I need to get done for professional schools,” she said. “Working as a CNA, for example, helps me get patient care hours and experience working in health care. My vape presentation allows me to do more community outreach to meet my final requirement for my scholarship and provide education on a hot topic that this community needs.” Workouts are a favorite way to relax, including weight training, yoga, and running. “I’m currently training to run my first marathon by the end of the summer somewhere in the Keweenaw,” she said. “Just for fun, not an official race.”
She also reminds people that no one is upbeat all the time, and acknowledging stress and doing something to counteract it is important.
“I am not going to lie, this situation has caused me some anxiety. I am human, so I know it is OK and completely normal,” she said. “I am naturally a glass-half-full kind of person and what helps me keep my happy attitude, especially during these hard times, is to stay on a healthy schedule of exercising, work and reaching out to my friends and family. I like to spend a lot of time connecting with nature by trail running or outdoor yoga — I spend a lot of time out at Farmers Block where my family owns 40 acres.”
“I have learned to focus on myself more and stay calm during hard times,” she added.
Another lesson learned since the beginning of the pandemic: do your own research and focus on the facts.
“I have learned to take everything I see on the news or social media with a grain of salt,” Miller said. “There is so much misinformation out there that if you do not check where it comes from, you can get yourself anxious or worked up for no reason.”
When asked if there’s anything she’d like to tell returning students, Miller focused on keeping our campus united and our community healthy.
"With all the new safety measures that are being implemented, let's all return to campus with an open mind and take every day one day at a time. If we all do our part, we can keep ourselves and the community healthy."
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.