Diverse Perspectives & Advocacy

On a Medical Mission Trip: Ashley Elsbernd

Sarah Gray, RN
July 1, 2019
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Ashley Elsbernd is a NICU traveler, life traveler, and recently completed her first medical mission trip for nurses in Uganda (for more on medical mission trips, check out this post). She grew up in North Dakota, where she attended the University of North Dakota and worked in the local hospital’s NICU for a year before moving out to Denver. She spent two and half years in the children’s hospital NICU before taking the leap into travel nursing.

She’s kept her assignments in the Midwest (Omaha, NE; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN) to be close to family and friends but has been able to do a lot of leisure traveling as a result! Her 6-year-old English Bulldog, Norman, comes with her everywhere, and they’ve had a blast finding all of the dog-friendly activities in each city. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time in the sun, reading, and exploring new cities.

What was your first experience with nursing? How did this influence your decision to become a nurse?

"My grandma worked in multiple roles throughout her career, but all were within the nursing field. I remember visiting her at work as well as her bringing home various medical equipment for me to play with, and I really don’t think I ever considered anything outside of healthcare for my career. After learning that the NICU existed (thanks to Addison Shepherd on Grey’s anatomy, I’ll be honest), I shadowed a NICU nurse my junior year in high school and was convinced from then on that that was exactly what I wanted to do with my life."

What advice would you give someone considering nursing as a profession?

"The most valuable thing I did in considering a nursing career was to job shadow. I was able to see firsthand what a day at work looked like and ask plenty of questions. I was fortunate to be able to shadow nurses in various departments and roles, which served as a taste of how broad a career in nursing really can be. I quickly realized that the nursing profession encompasses so much more aside from just bedside care, and having so many options within one degree was what sealed the deal for me."

At Trusted, we've spoken about building a personal and professional brand as a nursing professional. What’s your take on this? How do you do this yourself?

"I’ve always sort of shied away from the idea of having a personal brand, but recently it’s coming to mean so much more than simply a way to sell yourself. It’s giving a name to your morals and values and owning who you are. I think that each individual nurse is constantly changing and improving their professional “brand” by how they handle themselves on and off the job. I love that nurses have been more at the forefront of healthcare recently, and that we’ve been changing ideas of what nurses can do and who they are. We’re not just there to pass out meds and do what doctors say, we’re valuable members of the team."

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What gives you energy?

"I’m still working on being a morning person, but coffee does help! I also take a few minutes to lay in bed, actually wake up, and set some intentions for the day to get it off on the right foot. I also find that planning ahead in setting my agenda for the next day really helps."

NICU nurse

What kind of mission work have you done as a nurse? Where? What has been your favorite part?

"I just returned from my first ever medical mission trip. I traveled to Uganda for 10 days to work at rural outreach clinics with a group of about 30 volunteers, both medical and non-medical. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, as these clinics are the only healthcare that many of their patients are able to receive. While we were certainly able to do some big things for patients, I think the most beautiful part of mission trips is the work that it does on your own heart. The simplest things can make the biggest difference in our patients’ lives, and that’s not unique to international nursing.

I came back with a new perspective on patient interactions.

Our patients valued the time spent with them and the love we showed them more than any medical care we could have provided, and that’s something I can continue to give to my patients at home. The organization I worked with is OneWorld Health. They're an amazing organization that works with impoverished communities in developing countries, focusing on treating simple issues - infections, diarrhea, and broken bones - all of which can be devastating without basic care."

Another organization to check out if you're interested in medical mission trips for nurses is International Volunteer HQ. They offers trips to Guatemala, Peru, India, and more.

Where is your favorite place you’ve been?

"I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot, but my favorite destination is the Caribbean (Barbados being at the top of my list). There’s so much vibrancy down there! Between the music, the food, and the overall attitude towards life, there's a clear love of the moment. Of course, the sun and the bright turquoise water doesn’t hurt, either. I find it to be the perfect place for a mental and physical reset."

What do you think is the most difficult part of living life as a nurse?

"I think attempting to maintain a normal schedule is hard. For someone who works a 9-5 job, understanding that you have to work overnight on the weekends sometimes, or that you need to plan weeks in advance can be tricky (especially when your friends and family seem to have more scheduling freedom than you)."

What other identities or roles do you identify with beyond “nurse?”

"Daughter, sister, cousin, best friend, and, of course, dog mom. I'm also a curious person, and that curiosity and interest doesn't stop with healthcare and nursing."

What do you wish the world knew about nursing?

"Being a nurse goes so far beyond the bedside care we provide. Most of us didn’t go into nursing school because it’s a “good” degree to have, as a pathway to something else, or because of job security. We’re passionate people who bring a lot to the table, and we find our fulfillment in treating our patients as people. I genuinely love building relationships with the patients and families I care for, whether it’s for one shift or many months. Hand-in-hand with that, though, is we can’t always leave work at the hospital. It’s not just our brains that work hard for us, it’s our hearts, too."

What do you think is in store for the future of nursing? What about for your nursing career?

"In my mind, the future of nursing really is ours to decide, and that’s such an exciting thought! There are so many innovative individuals that continue to challenge and change it, and with so many different paths to choose from coming out of nursing school, the possibilities truly are endless. As for my own career, that’s a big question mark for me at this point. I genuinely love my role as a bedside NICU nurse, so an advanced degree isn’t currently on my radar… but who knows?"

What are some quick tips for other nurses out there?

  • Healthiest habit for work days: Pack lots of healthy snacks and avoid the candy drawer.
  • My work mornings usually start with: A solid, upbeat playlist for my drive in to work. It helps me start my day with the attitude that I can handle anything that’s thrown at me!
  • Go-to meal that I pack for work: Chicken and steamed veggies… and a piece of chocolate, because I’m only human.
  • Favorite thing to do on a day-off: Explore! I love taking day trips to new cities or just exploring the hidden gems of where I am. I don’t often visit the same places twice, and Norman usually serves as my trusty sidekick.
  • Favorite app: Instagram.
  • Clogs or sneakers? Definitely sneakers. Nikes, to be exact.
  • If I wasn’t a nurse, I would probably be: A travel blogger, wannabe photographer, or professional dog cuddler (can we make that a thing?).
  • Compression stockings, compression socks, or neither?Neither… but I should probably pick one.
  • Puke, poop, sputum, IV starts in babies, we’ve all got our aversion, what’s yours? RSV season in the NICU is my own personal torture – full suction canisters, tons of boogers, suctioning every five minutes… no, thank you!
  • Go-to choice of caffeine? Chocolate covered espresso beans.

Follow Ashley & Norman’s adventures: @aelsbernd

To read about another medical mission trip, check out this story about a med-surg nurse!

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