PUNXSUTAWNEY — Growing up in Punxsutawney, Ashley Parsons knew from
the time she was a very little girl that she wanted to be a nurse and help others.
Now, after graduating from PAHS in 2002, from St. Francis with a bachelor's in nursing in 2006 and from Clarion and Edinboro's combined master's of science in nursing program — and after years of experience as a staff nurse at Punxsutawney Area Hospital (PAH) — Parsons is living out her dream right here in her hometown as a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP) in obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) in Dr. Emil Dib's office at the hospital.
"I knew I wanted to be a nurse from the time I was about 8 years old," she said. "So, when I got out of high school, I went to St. Francis for my undergrad and earned my bachelor's in nursing. In May 2006, I started here at the hospital and moved to the Expecting You unit in the fall of that year. Working there, I found my passion. I love the whole aspect of the pregnant person and the education aspect that we can offer here. I loved and believe in what we have here at PAH, and I think it's a very special thing."
Parsons said that it was a fellow CRNP, Don Pallone, who works in a practice downtown, who convinced her that she should keep going with her education after her bachelor's.
"I thought I'd had my fill, but he convinced me to think about it. I applied and got early admission for the next year. They accepted me, but they wanted me to put in a little more clinical experience. So, I worked for one more year to build that experience."
While her dream wasn't always to work in OB-GYN Parsons said she fell in love with the department and everything about it through her time as a nurse there and through her own experience as a patient.
"The hospital sort of created this position for me because of my passion for the OB department," she said. "I just had a baby in October, and I came here. And I just believe in this place. I was perfectly comfortable having my daughter here, knowing the girls and Dr. Dib. So, when I came back from maternity leave, I jumped right in, and here I am."
A large part of her desire to work at PAH, Parsons said, comes from growing up here and wanting to contribute back to the community.
"The fact that I grew up here plays a big part in my passion for working here," she said. "I love this town. When I got out of college, I know that I could have gone to any of the great-big city hospitals, and those hospitals are necessary, but I like the small-town, ‘I know your aunt; I know your mom,’ feeling Punxsutawney has. And I think it's great to work in that environment."
As a new addition to the staff in Dib's office, Parsons can offer a plethora of services to PAH's patients.
"I can do routine women's health care — annual exams, PAP tests and breast exams.
I'll be going in April to learn how to insert a new type of birth control that actually goes in through the arm. And I've been learning some routine, minor procedures, as well," she said. "I can also co-manage a pregnant woman. I can't deliver her (baby), but I can take her through the process."
As a self-described "education junkie," though, Parsons' favorite part of the job is the opportunity she has to help educate women, both pregnant and those who aren't yet pregnant, about the process of having a baby.
"The thing I'm most passionate about is the education," she said. "I really feel that a pregnant person understands what's going on in her body more than anyone and that she can best maximize those signals. If she's having leg cramps, those cramps are telling us something, so she gets to be a part of the process as we figure that out."
Another part of the education that Parsons looks forward to is helping women overcome the misunderstandings that come from generations of stories from well-meaning friends and family.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about things like antibiotics, and another thing I'm excited about is educating women concerning breastfeeding. I've got a pretty good foundation from the teaching standpoint — and experientially — of how to help maximize that experience for people. I have gone through it myself with my own child, and in fact, I was worried it wouldn't work for me. If it was sabotaged for me, I knew it would be tough.
"So, I want to be there to help support the folks who have no idea what's going on with it or don't have anyone available to help them with the process. Lots of people don't have relatives who have breastfed, so I'm here to help women who would feel comfortable talking to me about it."
Parsons said that breastfeeding is something that the Expecting You staff always saw the importance of, and she hopes to pass those lessons on to her patients, as well.
"I know this department from working in it, and we have a very strong sense of the importance of the practice," she said. "It used to be a choice, but now, we understand how big the impact can be on both the mother and the baby. If the mother is willing, I will go above and beyond to make sure we can make the experience work for her."
While working with Dr. Dib was "a great experience," Parsons said she also understands the fact that there are some things that some patients might feel a bit more comfortable asking her, as she's gone through pregnancy herself.
"I really enjoy working with Dr. Dib, but he's never breastfed anyone, and we know that," she said. "So, while he's familiar with it, he's not familiar in an experiential way. Some people need to connect a bit more with that experiential end. I can relate with folks as to how it works. Working there was different. Having gone through it, I know that, 'Yes, your hips really do ache,' or, 'Yes, I know you're exhausted.' Having someone who's been there before might help."
So far, Parsons said, a large part of what she's been able to do at the hospital has been aligned with her desire to educate others.
"I've worked a lot with our new OB patients, and I take about 30 to 45 minutes with them just talking — asking what their fears are, their concerns, what they've heard from aunts or moms.
Because what everyone's heard is different," she said. "I relate pregnancy to fishing stories. If everything was going smoothly, it doesn't make for a good story looking back. 'The weather was terrible, and it was raining sideways.' Those are the kinds of stories we hear. But pregnancy's not always like that. It's not always a horror story, so I want to talk through their fears with them as early as I can."
With the technological era fully upon us, Parsons said that education can push against some of the things they've heard or read from other sources, as well.
"I love to explain things to people in a way that they can understand easily," she said. "You read things in books or on the Internet, and they just don't always tell the whole story. The book can't tell you where their fears are. Even if it's not dealing directly with their pregnancy, though, it's nice to have someone who understands and wants to educate you about your own healthcare. There are just a lot of misconceptions out there."
While Parsons acknowledged the need for hospitals of all sizes in all places, she also pointed out that she's quite content working where she is exactly because of the size and location and what those offer.
"Our OB patients are quite often the only ones here," she said. "When I was here as a patient, I got one-on-one care, my husband got one-on-one care, and the baby got one-on-one care. We don't shove the baby on you and say, 'You're on your own.' There are a thousand babies born every day, but your baby is born on one day. This is your baby and your experience, and it's the most important thing to you. That's why
you're here. You are important, your baby is important, and you deserve quality care."
While Parsons knew what she wanted to do from a young age, she admits that nursing isn't for everyone. And with that in mind, she offers the opportunity for anyone who is considering nursing as a career to stop by and talk with her.
"I extend the offer to anyone who thinks they might want to be a nurse or a mid-level," she said. "They can come any time and shadow me. I'll explain to them my triumphs and my frustrations. It's a lot of hard work from college on up. My college friends were out having fun, and I was working on a care plan. It's not all fun and games, but my family helped me push through it by reminding me to keep my eyes on the prize. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here today. I want to be able to be here for folks if they need that support."
Much like Parsons, though, not everyone will fit every mold in nursing, either.
"Nursing isn't for everyone," she said. "But even those who want to be a nurse, there is a lot of diversity there. You can be an emergency room nurse, an operating room nurse. Actually, when I was in school, I thought OB was too warm and fuzzy for me. I wanted ER or something fast and furious. But I found out that OB is the fast and furious for me. It's quite the adrenaline rush, but there are just so many places you can go by starting out with an RN degree."
For those interested in pursuing a nursing degree, though, Parsons offered one final word of advice: "I would recommend that anyone coming out of school and getting his or her bachelor's degree, it's so much easier to get it right up front than to go back and get it. In high school, I knew I wanted to be an RN. I didn't even think about
being a nurse practitioner. But once life starts happening, it'll be tougher to make that switch."
Anyone with questions or an interest to set up an appointment with Parsons can contact her through Dr. Dib's office at 938-3343.