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Public Health Nursing

Ashley Lair

RN, BSN ('10)

What drew you to this career?

In nursing school, Public Health was my favorite course. Ask anyone who knew me well then, and they will tell you how excited I would get over the topics. I encountered an amazing opportunity just after graduation that involved a few more of my passions, Spanish and traveling. I worked in a rural clinic in Honduras for 8 months doing a bit of everything that went into running our main clinic and satellite clinics.

How did you prepare for it?

I studied abroad the summer before nursing school in the Dominican Republic, through a program that had a community health focus. It involved urban and rural clinic visits and service work, which I found so interesting. I loved spending time with the locals, many of whom were so generous and had such amazing stories.

I also worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Downtown Clinic in Laramie, which I loved as well. I enjoyed connecting with patients and getting to know them on a personal level. I also enjoyed the sense of community among the providers and volunteers. Those experiences really sparked my interest, and set some groundwork for pursuing a public health position in Latin America. I knew I wanted to work abroad in a Spanish-speaking, rural area, and from there the opportunity presented itself. I went on a UW faculty-led brigade in the Fall of 2009 to Agua Salada, Honduras, and just connected with the place, the locals, and the volunteers on the ground. It seemed a bit crazy, but I asked the volunteers I met during that week if there would be any need for an RN when I graduated the following summer. I got some contact information, kept in touch with the staff members, and kind of blindly followed this spark of interest.

I think if something speaks to you that strongly, it's important to listen to that.  Make the connections, keep contact information, and get as much relevant experience as you can.

What do you like the most about this career?

I am not currently employed in public health, but I do miss it. I love the positive approach to healthcare, and the opportunity it provides to be involved in patient's lives for the long term. That can mean several things: it can mean providing care for them on a personal level, or it can mean evaluating needs in a community and working to create programs to better meet those needs. I think it's a field of nursing that involves a lot of insight and creativity, and going out into the community is an added bonus. In Honduras, my morning commute sometimes involved riding in the bed of a truck for an hour through beautiful mountains in order to visit patients in their homes and communities. I think that's much better than sitting behind a desk!

What are the biggest challenges?

I can only speak to the challenges that I encountered in Honduras, as I haven't had much experience in Public Health in the US, but I have a feeling some of the challenges are the same. I found myself wondering every day if what I was doing was beneficial, or if there was a way to be doing it better. I think that question arises anytime you're doing something you care about, though--you want to do the best you can.

There were some political issues that we encountered as our organization took over some government contracts and began managing some of the local clinics; and of course money and resources were an issue. These things were definitely frustrating, but that's where the creativity comes in, too. Besides, a career without challenges would be boring!

What advice would you have for a student interested in this field?

This is just general life advice and applies to all nursing fields: If you are interested in it, pursue it! It can be scary and overwhelming at times, and you may not know how the details are going to play out when you begin pursuing something such as this, but have faith in the process. If something really calls to your heart, do it as soon as possible.  It's easy to come up with reasons not to, to tell yourself you'll do it next year or in 10 years, but you never know what obstacles you'll run into the meantime that may prevent you from pursuing your goals in the future. You probably won't regret it, but if you do, you can always change your mind.

Now specifically regarding public health abroad: You will learn a lot of things about yourself and the world, some of which you will struggle with. You will find yourself asking questions you might not ever find the answers to. Some days will be really hard, some days will break your heart.  But you will grow.  You will make connections and memories to last a lifetime.

Extra info about Ashley Lair:

I am currently working as an ER travel nurse! I'm on assignment in Vancouver, Washington until April. I'm not sure what the future holds, but I have a few ideas in mind! I'm just waiting to see where the road takes me.

Also check out a story on Ashley Lair, "Alumna Ashley Lair Discusses Diversity of Honduras."

Lair staffed the Public Health Nursing (International) Booth at the 3/26/15 Online Alumni Mentoring event. Click here for more information!

Ashley Lair

Ashley Lair
"I love the positive approach to healthcare [in Public Health Nursing], and the opportunity it provides to be involved in patient's lives for the long term...I think it's a field of nursing that involves a lot of insight and creativity, and going out into the community is an added bonus."

Lair staffs Public Health Nursing booth at online mentoring event

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