Stephanie Weems is an Air Force veteran and currently runs a franchise location for Age Advantage, a company that provides at-home non-medical care, in Columbus, Ohio. Stephanie gave us her thoughts on her transition to a civilian job and how her military experience benefited her.
Tell us about your military background.
I’ve been out of the Air Force for about 14 years. I was two years in and got out early on a medical discharge as I was pregnant with my son. While I was in I received an Air Force Achievement Medal for the work I did in the hospital at my Air Force base in Nebraska. My specialty was hospital administration -- I worked in outpatient records, inpatient records, admissions and discharges, and the orderly room, which was the main administration side of it.
I actually wrote the procedures for our hospital. We went from having a non-commissioned officer on duty 24 hours a day in the admissions office to having someone on call at night. I wrote all the procedures for the different wards in the hospital for admission procedures, for which I got the achievement medal.
What path led you to your current career?
After I left the Air Force I lived with my husband, who is also an Air Force veteran, in Missouri for some time, and then relocated to Florida because our grandparents lived there. While I was in Florida I met an interesting person while I was working for Disney, Jennifer Campbell, who is the daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot and was finishing up her bachelor’s degree in business. We were working at Disney together and she asked me to come with her and be her office manager when she opened an Age Advantage franchise, so I started from the ground up with her, so to speak. I was there for about four years. I was basically number two there, I handled payroll and billing and all of that.
My grandfather was eventually diagnosed with dementia so we moved back to Springfield, Ohio, which is where my family is from. There was already an Age Advantage franchise in Columbus, and I went to work as their office manager. My manager there was ready to get out of the business, so I happened to come in at a good time, and the owners of the main franchise, who I’d worked with in Florida, said, “Well, if you’d like to take it over…” That’s how it progressed.
Are you opening more franchises?
I’m actually working on coming down towards the Springfield area, because that’s my hometown. My eventual goal is to have the Columbus office, a Springfield office, and one in the Dayton area, hopefully within the next five to six years.
I think I have a unique perspective on it because I worked so closely with Jennifer in Florida, but it’s definitely different to be in charge of the whole thing. Everything really depends on the decisions that I make. It wasn’t a big jump but I’m still getting used to it because I just opened my franchise on September 1. I’m still processing all of it but the experience in Florida as well as my military experiences really prepared me to take over.
How have your military skills translated to the civilian job world?
I think my military training was very well-rounded when it came to administration. I have been out for quite a while, and had many jobs in the meantime – I’ve worked in the cafeteria, I’ve worked in insurance. I think most everything I learned in the Air Force was something I could translate into an outside job, even if it wasn’t a medical-related job. I picked up office management skills, as well as things I learned in the orderly room -- being able to track where our Airmen were, who was out on leave, what their medical issues were, etcetera. Even though most of it was centered to hospital administration, quite a bit of it translates to the outside.
What’s been challenging about adjusting to a civilian job?
I think the military is a little more structured, which is the way I prefer it. When you’re looking towards a civilian job there’s more of having to figure out how to do things, whereas in a military hospital things are more laid out for you: This is how it’s going to be done, these are the steps for everything. I’m a very detail-oriented person, so having a structured system has always been best for me, and those are the type of companies that I can thrive in. It’s good for me owning a company, because I can set it up in a way that I know it needs to be set up.
What’s the most exciting and challenging aspects of running your business?
The most exciting thing is working with my clients. I’m a very service-oriented person, so being able to help people and understand their frustrations and be able to help them be able to stay home and obtain a good quality of life is very important to me. You’ll get a client that’s not doing very well in the beginning, and obviously some people get a little better and some people don’t, but when you get a caregiver in there and you see progress, that’s very important to me. The most challenging aspect is just running the business end of things, like being able to set a competitive rate. Home care is a very competitive market, so you have to find that one thing that sets the company apart.
Do you recommend your field to veterans?
Absolutely. Homecare is one of the most rapidly growing career fields in the market right now because it’s more of a personal business, as opposed to nursing homes and assisted living where there’s not one-on-one care. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone getting out of the military.
Do you have some tips for outgoing servicemembers looking for jobs?
Make sure you put “veteran” on your resume. A lot of people are looking for servicemen and women now because they’re more disciplined, and they care more about the jobs they’re doing. As far as the skills that you can learn in the military, I would absorb everything you possibly can, because it’ll translate to the outside world and you can market yourself accordingly. Really learn about the career fields you’re interested in -- take some classes, use the GI Bill to your advantage and market being a veteran.
I would not trade my military experience for anything in the world. It was the best decision I ever made in my life. It really taught me to be a strong individual and put other people above myself, and the only thing I would have done differently is stay in longer. Of all the jobs I’ve done in the last 20 years, the military was the one that really prepared me for everything else that I’ve done in my life.