Mel McMillan: ‘Music is like medicine’

Meet the nurse with a song in her heart

Mel McMillan prepares to give vaccine to Vergie Hart.

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Mel McMillan connects with others everywhere she goes. Whether it’s at one of the clinics she manages or a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic, McMillan brings joy, compassion and song to patients and team members alike.

McMillan learned the power of connection early on. Her adopted mother was a nurse. Growing up, McMillan would sometimes accompany her mother at a nursing home and pass out trays to residents. McMillan noticed the joy her mother brought to everyone.

“Back then, the nurses wore their white hats and uniforms,” McMillan said. “My mother was just so pretty, so bright. You could see it in the way she walked and how she took care of her patients and her staff. I fell in love with nursing, and I never thought about doing anything else.”

Sure enough, McMillan followed that path. She graduated from nursing school in 1985 and has worked in hospitals, clinics, assisted living and memory care. Today, she is a licensed practical nurse and administrator at three clinics in the Triad: Novant Health Parkside Family Medicine in Jamestown, Novant Health Northwest Family Medicine in Oak Ridge and Highland Avenue Primary Care in Winston-Salem. McMillan enjoys mentoring team members and helping them come into their own.   

“I talk about experience, trials and tribulations and then I connect with each individual,” McMillan said. “I have a team member who came to me and she’d never worked the front desk. I spent a lot of one-on-one time with her. I helped her with how to dress and how to talk. She went on and pursued a dream she never knew she had. Now, she works at a funeral home.”

McMillan brings the same warm presence to patients. While working at a nursing home, she grew close with seniors. She enjoyed listening to their stories and getting to know them and their families.  

“I just enjoy the connection, being able to be a leader and be true to myself,” McMillan said. “It’s not just about religion. It’s about spirits connecting. And sometimes, it’s emotional. Maybe a patient just found out they have cancer. In that moment, they just need to know that somebody cares.”

One of the ways McMillan connects with patients is through music. She grew up in a musical family, and her grandfather played piano. McMillan learned to sing and has participated in choirs and singing groups. And she’s brought her gifts to nursing. Early in her career, McMillan would sing to residents gathered in a dining room and take requests. Today, she sings in her clinics all the time and when she isn’t, she can be heard humming along. She’ll sing to comfort others and sometimes to celebrate.

“Music is like medicine,” McMillan said. “It soothes and it heals.”

Recently, McMillan used her voice to help patients relax at Novant Health COVID-19 vaccination clinics. She’ll make them smile or laugh to help put their mind at ease. One patient was particularly nervous so McMillan sang “This Is The Day,” a Christian hymn for her, all the while administering the vaccine. 

“I can look at a person and touch them and tell they’re shaking with fright,” McMillan said. “I said, ‘You know what? We’re going to take our time, and we’re going to get through this.’ I started wiping her arm and then a song just came out.”

Mel McMillan and Vergie Hart.

McMillan has appreciated seeing patients come in rejoicing and grateful for the team members working in the clinic. She and her fellow team members have been there to engage and answer questions.

“To be honest, it’s a good feeling to be wanted and needed and know you did something to make somebody’s day,” McMillan said.

At times, McMillan has had to find new ways to stay connected during the pandemic. She has two daughters, a son and four grandsons, and has participated in several video calls, sometimes with as many as 20 people.

“We did a lot of FaceTime calls because I didn’t want to lose that connection at all,” McMillan said.

Whether it’s singing or just being there for others, McMillan will continue finding remarkable ways to connect with others and help them live happy, healthy lives.

“My mother told me, ‘Never lose an opportunity to connect with a patient,’ McMillan said. “That’s what I do. I let them know I’m here, I’m listening, I’ll do whatever I can and I won’t miss that opportunity.”

Now, you have the chance to connect with Novant Health team members in your area.

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