At just 27, Des Moines native Ashley Hilsabeck RN, ASN'13, BSN'13, is building a resume that would be impressive for someone a decade her senior, and she credits her education at Mercy College of Health Sciences with helping her get launched.
Now a critical care registered nurse who takes care of pediatric heart surgery patients at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Ashley discovered her calling while studying chemistry and biology at the University of Northern Iowa.
“I had worked at a pharmacy and applied to pharmacy school, along with considering several other graduate degrees in health care, but I wanted to experience bedside care before I graduated, so I decided to volunteer at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo,” she says.
“Long story short, I started right before I graduated from UNI in 2010, and I just fell in love with bedside care. Your time with the patient is longer than any other caregiver, and you are able to serve as the patient’s advocate. You’re in a unique position where you can serve as a bridge between the science of medicine and personal, one-on-one care. I really enjoy being that resource for my patients.”
Having decided to enter nursing school, Ashley compared programs and chose Mercy College for its increased focus on clinical experience, its relatively small size, and its location near family. Having already earned a Bachelor’s degree from UNI, Ashley was approved to enter Mercy’s BSN program and was completed it in two and a half years while working as a pharmacy technician. She earned impressive accolades along the way, including receiving the Outstanding Nursing Student Award, presented at her graduation in 2013. She also contributed to the college’s research symposium in her final semester, with a presentation on pharmacology education in nursing.
“When I reflect on Ashley, I am reminded of a student who had the drive to succeed, explored all possibilities, used evidence-based research to expand her nursing knowledge, and a leader who challenged ‘it has always been done that way.’ Ashley epitomizes the future of nursing,” says Dawn Bowker, PhDc, RN, ARNP, WHNP-BC, Associate Professor of Nursing at Mercy College, whom Ashley credits as a mentor during her time at Mercy College.
Ashley greatly appreciates the school’s focus on cultural diversity and focusing on each patient as an individual—perspective that has been invaluable as she has worked in Chicago-area hospitals, including Loyola University Health System.
“Chicago is such a wonderful city and we see people from so many different cultural and religious backgrounds,” she says. “Mercy College really prepared me to be sensitive to their individual needs, and to look at them holistically.
“I remember one religion class in particular. We visited a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, and a Jewish synagogue, and learned so much about different religions. I have used that awareness many times with patients, including helping a patient find the right orientation for his daily prayers while in the hospital. I’m so grateful to have that background and appreciation for different cultures and religions.”
Another experience for which she’s extremely grateful to the college: A life-changing trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to approximately 30,000 Native Americans from the Lakota tribe.
“Pine Ridge has a special place in my heart,” she says. “There are so many health discrepancies and their need is so great.” The statistics are startling. The residents have an 80% unemployment rate, per capita income of well under the poverty level, an infant mortality rate that is 300% higher than the national average, and life expectancies of just 55 for men and 58 for women.
Ashley serves on the board of a nonprofit organization founded to help the residents of Pine Ridge, Mitakuye Oyasin, a Lakota phrase that translates to “We’re all related.”
In four years, the group has raised funds to donate beds, cribs, sheets, and prom dresses and suits, a reward for students who graduate from high school, a huge achievement in a community where the average adult has a third-grade education. The group has built relationships with the residents and strives to provide help that truly improves their quality of life. (For more information or to make a donation, visit www.mitakuyeo.org)
In her limited spare time, this busy young woman delights in exploring Chicago with her husband, Jeremy, who works in engineering management. Married since 2011, they live in Forest Park and find time to experience Chicago’s great variety of ethnic restaurants, take in the occasional play, and above all, cheer on his beloved Chicago Cubs.
“Jeremy has been a huge Cubs fan since he was a little kid – being able to go to games is a huge advantage of living in Chicago!” she says happily.