She called on HCPs in her profession – and then found herself personally relying on the same team.
Two things can be true at once. Angie Howard’s story is universal, and it remains uniquely her own.
About that unique part: Early to receive her associate’s degree, while still in high school, Angie went on to graduate with a bachelor’s at just 19, part of an early-advancement track that would serve her well in the years to come.
“I was fresh out of college and thinking I knew everything,” she says, “and I knew nothing.”
Angie thought her major in digital communication meant a journalistic communications degree, but it turns out it was a veiled way of saying “computer programming.” She wanted to communicate with words but found herself coding behind a computer screen. As it turns out, as with many things in life, she rolled with it.
“I started working on the IT helpdesk for a healthcare company, specializing in infection prevention, medical sterilization and hand sanitizers,” she says now. (Little did she, or any of us, know how sanitizer would become an everyday item for nearly everyone as of 2020.)
So her STEM-centric career began, though not without its proverbial bumps in the road: “There were very few women, or people of color, in that role.”
Angie would go on to work for another healthcare employer’s IT helpdesk, and became involved in a software migration project from SAP to Oracle. She became a business analyst, working as a de facto project manager and learned much about business needs, and what made her sales team “tick.” That was helpful for her growth, and catalyzed a proper move into sales itself. Half a decade into that time, Angie met her future spouse, Jamin Howard, who lived in Indianapolis.
As she tells it, “We both had our careers going … so we took a leap, saying, ‘OK, whoever finds a job first wins.’” She started at Roche Diagnostics with a one-year contract, intent on staying. “I said, ‘I’m going after it and will seek to make them never want to let me go.’” The year was 2010.
Angie started on our Point of Care marketing team, and helped project-manage a product launch. Drawing close to the details that distinguish a product matched up well with what drives her in general: “Both sets of my grandparents have diabetes, as well as my dad. I was so excited to be working for the Point of Care team, learning about our recently launched blood glucose meters, the innovation and how patients were benefiting. I grasped onto every piece of information I could learn so I could share it with the ones I loved. I felt a sense of accomplishment in knowing the work I was doing was ultimately helping patients.”
A mentor recruited her to the inside sales team. She learned a lot, and fast: “I learned how to make it my own, to listen to the lab leader or clinician and find ways to meet their needs.” Her aim was to see things full circle and go well beyond lead generation.
There came a time, a couple roles and a couple years later, when Angie found herself calling on those healthcare professionals again, but this time in a different way. She had formerly sold laboratory instrumentation to them as a Roche employee, and now needed them to help meet her own needs, as she and Jamin were seeking to conceive a child.
“Those fertility specialists were happy to see me again,” she says, “and it was for starkly different reasons this time. I needed their expertise.”
In-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments can be something that Americans don’t speak about enough, and as women, Angie says. But on International Women’s Day – on March 8, 2019 – she heard a brave colleague speak about IVF during an event celebrating the day.
“There was a cancer story, a diabetes story and an IVF story,” she says, looking back. “And after hearing it, I realized I needed to embrace this challenge and view it as a journey, and what better place to start than at the same fertility clinic I had sold Roche instruments to. So I went back as a patient to someone who I had sold to in the past.”
As Angie looks back, she had educated physicians and laboratorians on the sensitivities of Roche assays. She knew that info front to back. Then came time for her to take a more vulnerable position with them. She says she trusted the results she could receive from her fertility doctor.
“We are all patients at some point,” she says, “and it just changes your lens. It leads to empathy and leads you to the patient who’s behind every single test that’s run.”
Angie and Jamin remain patients of that fertility specialist, and are working through their IVF journey. Hearing a colleague openly share her own story led her to action. “That courage sparked it in me to go to a clinic and ask the questions, to be vulnerable and trust the process.”
What a difference to sit in a room as the patient with a doctor, instead of as a person seeking to share information about diagnostic tests. Beyond the isolation in general that infertility can magnify for a woman in her social or interior lives, women of color – Black women, including Angie – sometimes find additional layers of barriers to IVF treatment, according to Stat News.
And Angie harbors hope. “I was hoping to have that story of my own kiddo to share. That hasn’t happened yet, but we’re still hopeful.”
Today, Angie is one of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association’s Rising Stars of 2022. Apart from any awards, giving back in her community feels different for her, seeing what she’s seen and knowing what she knows. Helping to empower minority students interested in STEM careers is personal for her, being a woman of color who majored in a STEM field. As a partnership team member with our African American business resource group (AABRG), she and her peers were called on in 2020, at that year’s height of racial injustice conversations – think Black Lives Matter, think Stop Asian Hate. They were called on to help turn Roche’s commitment to the Indy Racial Equity Pledge from words into actions. Senior leaders at Roche Diagnostics Corporation asked them to help create a strategic plan to breathe life into existing partnerships and further our diversity-and-inclusion mission.
Angie and the AABRG partnership team, inspired alongside AABRG chairs Erika Redmond and Eloise Finnell-Little, sought to tap into the areas Roche knows best – healthcare and engineering – to bring a mix of each to the community. Angie and others began broadening existing partnerships and forming new strategic ones, all across the Indianapolis community.
Enter MEPI – the Minority Engineering Program of Indianapolis. MEPI needed volunteers, namely to assist students in grades 6 through 12 in virtual settings.
“We want to shake things up, think outside of the box and really make a difference in ways we hadn’t before,” Angie says now. “We sought to create some spaces for high-school interns.”
Angie and her AABRG peers grounded themselves in their mission and in their own backgrounds.
“We wanted to create access for minorities in STEM fields, and we felt it important to speak up for the needs of our demographic,” she says. “There are top-level talents in inner-city schools, and we were so excited to create a pipeline for more minority, early-in-career talent at Roche.”
Wind it back, and there was Angie herself, a new college grad with a budding IT career. Years later, she helps empower grade-school kids through opportunities to excel with real-world experiences.
From cancer to COVID-19, diabetes to sepsis, various diseases and conditions have affected the lives of Angie’s family members. Those experiences, and her own journey with IVF, continue to drive her in her life and work. “Just working at Roche, you start to pick up on little things, various disease states and diagnostics tests, and I’ve realized education is key,” Angie says. “Anytime I can educate myself, or learn more about the importance of a diagnostic test, I’m better able to help by spreading that knowledge and helping someone else. Once you or someone you love are impacted by something, it becomes all too real.”
Take it from Angie – and take her inspiration and your own questions into your next medical appointment or screening.