I was a retail store manager for 24 years. When I realized that I wasn’t aligned with the store’s direction anymore, I decided it was time for a career change. Health care wasn’t my first choice but my wife and daughter encouraged it. Working in health care gets me closer to where I’m headed.
I was brought up in church. Some young people get older and decide that they want nothing to do with the church but I was the opposite. I enjoyed everything about it. I always wanted to learn more. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the church from a very young age.
I’ve been an ordained reverend for over 20 years. It’s what I do outside of work. I enjoy singing and speaking, helping and serving people. It’s my passion. I’ve always wanted to provide support to people in the health care system so I’m working towards my chaplaincy. I want to work in spiritual care.
My first job at St. Michael’s was as a registration clerk in the Emergency Department. That’s probably the most challenging department in the hospital. You get all sorts of people coming in. People with gun shots or stab wounds. People in crises. As a registration clerk, you’re often the first point of contact.
In the early days of COVID-19, I could tell that my manager was stretched thin so I started to offer support. In 2022, the work I was doing to support the team became official when I was appointed the operational leader for patient registration at St. Michael’s. I manage a team of about 45 registration clerks, coordinating schedules, staffing issues and reports for the Ministry of Health.
As with any new job, there’s an adjustment period. People are resistant to change. I’ve been fortunate not to be subjected to microaggressions too often in this role but when I first started, there was some pushback. Colleagues implied that I shouldn’t have gotten the position, that I wasn’t qualified.
These comments aren’t new to me. When I worked in retail management, I experienced the same thing. I’d go to district or regional meetings and be treated differently as a person of colour. You learn how to adjust yourself accordingly. I’m always prepared and I make sure that I’m totally professional.
Sometimes I’ll call people out when they make comments. It tends to be a shock for people when they meet me after hearing my voice over the phone. They aren’t anticipating a person of colour. They’ll say, ‘I wasn’t expecting you to look like this.’ Or, ‘Oh, I didn’t know.’ I’ll say, ‘You didn’t know what?’. You see people backpedal or readjust pretty quickly.
I take everything at face value. Whether I’m Black or not, everyone gets an opportunity. That’s the way I was raised. I was taught to stay focused on my goals, which are to support my team and achieve results.
I’ve learned as a reverend that people are in dire need of support. It doesn’t matter where you go or what industry you work in, people just want to be supported. That’s what I’ve tried to bring with me to Unity Health. At the height of the pandemic, colleagues would come to me often, wanting to talk about the pressure they were feeling. It’s nice when they reach out. I think it helps both of us.
This experience has taught me to appreciate life more. Especially the finer things. When I see families going through tough times, it puts things into perspective. It’s been a learning experience and I relish it.
Samuel Coleman is the Operational Leader for Patient Registration at St. Michael’s Hospital.
As told to Anna Wassermann. Photos by Yuri Markarov. This interview has been edited and condensed.