UACCB instructor joins ALPNA board

A photo of Ashley Ball

By Andrea Bruner

Ashley Ball thought she had to have her career path figured out by age 16 but trying to decide between teaching and nursing was making her stressed.

Finally, her mom pointed out there was a way she could do both, and now Ball is living her dream as the practical nursing program coordinator at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville.

Ball was recently named as the registered nursing advisor to the Arkansas Licensed Practical Nurse Association, which is an organization that supports LPNs and keeps them informed on educational standards, pending legislation pertaining to their profession and other matters of interest.

Ball said she had wanted to be more involved with ALPNA and had helped organize things when the association held its spring conference on the UACCB campus in March of this year. The previous RN advisor was looking to retire from teaching and to rotate off the board. The board approached Ball about stepping in, which she was happy and honored to do.

Her role as RN advisor will be to help where she can, including finding sites for the next fall conference and gather materials for next spring's event. A variety of competitions are typically held during the spring event, and Ball said the group plans to incorporate breakout sessions with speakers into next year’s event.

“They had some awesome speakers at last year’s spring convention,” Ball said. “One speaker had us all ready to go be Disney nurses. She talked to us about her dream of being a nurse at Disney World and as she's talking about it, she fired us up so much that everybody got their phones out and looked up how to be a Disney nurse!”

For the competitions, she said, there is a written test as well as a skills contest. A spelling bee and quiz bowl are also part of the event, and the night caps off with a talent show.

“The talent show is my favorite,” Ball said with a grin. “We had Elvis last year; he was awesome.”

Ball said while the ALPNA fortunately has several schools participating, they'd like to get working LPNs involved as well. And, she went on to say, they will be able to get the continuing education units (CEUs) they need each year to renew their licenses through the spring and fall conventions.

Part of what drew Ball to nursing was growing up with her sister, who was born with a heart defect, and from age 2 on, had to have a series of open-heart surgeries. Doctors said she might not live beyond adulthood, but Ball's sister is 25 now, and while she may need another surgery in the future, is living a full life and about to get married. 

"She was in Children's and lived there pretty much until she was about 6. She would get to go home for a few weeks at a time but then she would end up right back in the hospital,” Ball said.
As she would watch the nurses work, Ball would talk with them and ask questions.
"They were like family to us," Ball said. "I saw that and really wanted to be a part of it, so that's what drew me into cardiac nursing especially."

But she loved the idea of teaching, as well. "I couldn't decide if I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse," she said, and as more time passed, the more she worried that she hadn't yet chosen a career path.
Even though she was just a junior in high school, she was stressing over not having a decision made. She came home one Saturday after taking the ACT and was feeling frustrated, when her mom finally said, "Ashley, you do realize, you can be a teacher AND a nurse, right? Nurses have to have teachers. How do you think they learn to take care of people?'
"It clicked for me, and I knew that's what I wanted to do,” she said.

So, she earned her associate's at UACCB, then went on to earn her bachelor of science in nursing and master of science in nursing both at Arkansas Tech University, with the goal that someday she'd go into teaching. She never dreamed that “someday” would come a lot sooner than she imagined.

While she was working as a floor nurse, she had a student in the LPN program "shadow" her and that became her first teaching opportunity.

"We had a really cool case with a patient and she (the student) got to see it. I got to kind of walk her through it and talk to her about it and do a lot of teaching because that was something they hadn't seen before," Ball said.

After that, she said she realized how much she enjoyed teaching. The student, meanwhile, had told her instructors at UACCB how much she enjoyed the experience, and that's how they got to know Ball.

"When they had an opening (as instructor) come up, they approached me and asked me if I would be interested in adjuncting, and I said, 'Yes, I would!'"

Ball started teaching as an adjunct, or part-time, instructor, in February 2014 at UACCB. Then in June 2015, she became a full-time instructor.

"I just really wanted to take care of people," she said. And Ball knows first-hand how strong the  connection between nurses and their patients can be. To this day, Ball's sister still keeps in touch with the nurses at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

"They made such a huge difference for her," Ball added. "Hopefully I have that impact on the people I care for."

With teaching, Ball still gives hands-on care, but it's through the students.

"Instead of us doing it, it's us teaching them how to care for patients and how to have that passion, that love and that drive for these patients and make that connection with them. That's pretty neat. In nursing, you want to make a difference for a patient, but when you're in nursing education you want to make a difference for that student.
“It's almost like they're carrying on your legacy. You teach them how to take care of these people, so by changing that one student's life, we're changing all these patients' lives, the patients the students care for."