Lifeline: One Sailor’s Journey Outside Of Her Comfort Zone

Ashley Flynn has always craved adventure in her life. An inquisitive child, she would learn about the world through books, but little did she know the extent to which this curiosity would take her in life. In this latest edition of Faces of the Fleet, we meet Lieutenant Ashley Flynn of the United States Navy Nursing Corps, whose journey has taken her across the world treating critical care patients.

The Recession Hits

Ever since she can remember, Ashley Flynn was always the peacekeeper in her family, taking care of others and making sure everyone was okay. After inititally considering a career as a teacher, Ashley attended Rutgers University where she completed her pre-med training. There, she set her sights on a career in healthcare, knowing that patient care was a field she desperately wanted to thrive in.

Shortly after moving back to Rhode Island, her home state, Ashley began nursing training amidst the recession, where nursing jobs were becoming unusually hard to find. Hospitals couldn’t afford to train young nurses, so there became a hiring freeze across the country. Ready to begin her career, Ashley was at a crossroads in her life. She was bursting with youthful energy, yet no hospital would hire her.

“I even considered moving to Florida to be a nurse at Disney,” Ashley jokes.

At the time, several friends from nursing school had joined the Navy and were raving about it. On several occasions, they urged Ashley to consider a career there, but she refused to consider it as an option.

“There’s no way I’m joining the Navy, no way,” Ashley repeated to them for weeks, until she finally did some research and began to learn about nursing careers in the Navy. What struck a chord was the notion of traveling the world, seeing all of these great places that she wouldn’t be exposed to in a civilian job. Ever the curious mind, Ashley couldn’t find a single reason why she shouldn’t join.

After all, she could get out in four years, have a great resume and find work in a hospital.

Out Of Her Comfort Zone

Commissioned at Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island, one of Ashley’s first assignments was at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where she was tasked with the Wounded Warrior Care Program. There, she would provide care to heroes injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a wakeup call, to say the least.

Nothing in life had prepared Ashley for those gruelling twelve hour shifts caring for critically ill patients. Many of them had suffered life-changing injuries on the battlefield – and suddenly Ashley was their care provider.

“We worked long days. It wasn’t just physically tough, it was mentally exhausting. But in adversity comes strength. This was the moment when I truly woke up in life and realized that I could have a much bigger impact. I looked at these people who were my age and I thought ‘their life didn’t turn out how they envisioned’. It made me humble. It changed how I looked at the world,” Ashley remarked.

It was moments like this that reshaped her thinking and would catapult her into a new phase of her career. She grew up quicker in those few months than she had in her entire life. With new goalposts set, Ashley knew there was no going back from experiences like this. She needed more. She craved the challenge.

“Some of the worst moments for me were the worst moments for my patients. There were a couple patients that I got really close with. If they were having a bad day, that took over all of my thoughts.”

A World Apart From Home

Four years quickly passed, and Ashley knew she couldn’t give up her career, not after her experience working with Wounded Warriors. The thought of being home in a hospital in Rhode Island seemed worlds away from her experiences in the Navy. In 2015, Ashley became an Intensive Care Nurse, traveling to areas such as Djibouti where she spent 8 months as an ICU expert at a large Navy base. Her outstanding work there, coupled with other successful assignments, led to her selection as one of only four Navy fixed wing Critical Care Nurses. After a grueling two-year mission where she was stationed in Diego Garcia, she obtained her Masters Degree while on the island.

“I have gained so much perspective on my journey so far. I’ve been to the corners of the world and back. Just having that understanding has really added a different texture to my life that I probably wouldn’t have had if I stayed,” Ashley reflects.

Even though her experiences might imply that Ashley is a seasoned veteran in the Navy, she is still a young nurse with a bright future ahead. Now stationed in San Diego at the ICU in Balboa, one of the largest facilities in military medicine, Ashley serves as the Division Officer. On that unit, nurses and doctors are constantly caring for the sickest of the sick. This is the last opportunity that medical providers have to save someone’s life, so no day is ever simple.

The weight of responsibility on Ashley’s shoulders might seem large, but it’s this very weight that has shaped her into a role model for other nurses in the ICU. It wasn’t long ago that Ashley’s older, wiser colleagues provided a shoulder to cry on during the most difficult moments. Now, it’s Ashley who is pulling new Navy nurses through the worst times.

“I don’t question if I have had a good day or a bad one. It’s inherent in my job. I am part of something bigger. You can’t replicate it out in the civilian world. The bonds you form here are unlike anything else. It’s so rewarding – I get to be myself, work hard, and make a difference. It’s so meaningful. When you’re younger, you think you have your whole life ahead of you – but really you never know. A third of my life is up – these are the most enjoyable years of my life. No vacation or short term joy compares to doing meaningful work,” Ashley says.

Ashley may only have completed a third of her life, but she’s experienced things most of us could only dream of achieving in a lifetime.

To this day, Ashley maintains that she has no magical powers, and that she wasn’t primed for this career. She swears that anyone can do her job and experience what she’s experienced, so long as they work hard and stay committed to the greater purpose.

“I really don’t question the meaning in my life. I know that I have purpose and certainly in the medical field, in nursing. When you have patients that are looking to you for care and help in a very difficult time of need its very obvious that they need you and that you’re supposed to be there. And being part of this bigger organization and even seeing how my day to day job fits into a larger mission makes it very easy to realize I have lived out my life.”

About The Navy Nurse Corps

By the very nature of their duties, Navy Nurses quickly rise to the top of their profession. They provide care, not only for military servicemembers and their families, but also for people in need around the globe. Working with a team of talented colleagues united by a common mission, Navy Nurses have the opportunity to educate, lead and shape policy within Navy Health Care. They also apply leading edge medicine at world-class hospitals, utilise some of the most advanced technology on the planet and work at the best military nursing facilities on shore, at sea and in the field.
 
What Are My Responsibilities?

As an active duty Navy Nurse, you’ll provide high-quality nursing care, doing everything a typical nurse would do in a variety of settings such as Military treatment facilities (in the U.S. and overseas), austere environments (i.e. deployments, humanitarian aid missions) and onboard ships (aircraft carriers, hospital ships).

Nursing in an austere environment could mean taking part in humanitarian relief efforts, such as administering infant vaccinations in developing countries, or providing emergency care to victims of a natural disaster. Navy Nurses collaborate with physicians, surgeons, cardiologists and fellow nurses as colleagues and equals. Navy Nursing provides opportunities to develop leadership skills that will set you apart.

Visit Navy.com to watch other inspiring stories of Sailors.