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Personal Care Attendants: ‘I'm not there to do things for him. I'm there to do things with him.’

Provided by Cameron Reitan

Cameron Reitan, a second year Master’s of Public Health student at the University of Missouri, who’s also employed as a personal care attendant – essentially, she’s hired by people with disabilities to help them with whatever tasks they need.

She spoke about why she does this work and a little about what people misunderstand about caregiving.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Cameron Reitan: So, in high school, I really was passionate about being a pediatrician. I knew I really enjoyed healthcare, but I don't think I understood what like individual health care versus population healthcare really meant.

And so, once I found out about public health and how it's like population based, and more about like population, health equity, and equality, stuff like that, I was like, “Oh, that's what I've been wanting to do. I just didn't know that that existed.”

And then, personal care attendant-wise – beginning of the pandemic, well, I guess, mid-pandemic – August 2020. We're coming back to campus. My really good friend and roommate had been working for his men and Bob for about a year and a half at that point.

She was like, “Well, why don't you just come work for him?” Because I was looking for a job. I was like, “Sure.” She's like, “It's healthcare related. You might really enjoy it.”

So I met him. And I just knew that it was a job for me. I really enjoy hanging out with him and being a personal care attendant.

"I'm not there to take care of him, he can take care of himself."
Cameron Reitan

I just kind of saw a lot of public health components in the job, and I've gotten to learn so much about health care in the US, and like, just healthcare access. There’s so many issues that just one person – Bob – faces every day of his life.

But then I also do it because I really, really like him. He's such a cool, he's such a cool guy. That's what really motivates me is just, I enjoy him.


And even on the silent days, I'm just kind of out of my mind, just vibing with Bob. And because once you get the routine down, it's muscle memory, like, I'm not even thinking. I can blank out for two hours, and it's great. I just kind of get out of my head with school and stuff and then on our chatty days, I love our conversations.

I think people don't understand that there's a lot of independence with like me being a caregiver for an employer like him. There's a lot of independence. And I think that a lot of people think it’s gonna be like a nursing home – bound to the home, you know, 24-hour care – No. Like, this might be different for different employers. But for Bob, he has a lot of independence.

And I'm not, I'm not a nurse. I'm just there. I'm not qualified whatsoever to be a nurse. But we don't have a nurse that can come at any time and do it for us. So we have to do it.  

When Bob mentions that we're doing something we're not supposed to, they get mad at us. Like, “Okay, then you come pay a nurse to come out here and be on call whenever we need something we're not qualified to do,” and they’re like, “No.” Okay, then we're gonna continue doing it.

Maybe another thing people don't understand is, you don't need any skills, you just kind of learn as you go, because again, every employer is gonna be different. So you just go there, learn a routine, and you just keep doing that routine.

So I'm not a nurse, I'm just there to do things that he cannot do himself, but he has control over the whole situation. Like, I'm not, I'm not there to take care of him, he can take care of himself. He just can't do that because he doesn’t have function of his neck down. So, I'm not there to do things for him. I'm there to do things with him.

Anna Kochman studies journalism (cross-platform editing and producing) and computer science at the University of Missouri.
Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.