Alumna Spotlight: Sarah Stafford Evans’ Passion for Serving the Underserved

Dec. 14, 2018

When Sarah Stafford Evans graduated with her Master of Science for Entry into the Profession of Nursing (MEPN) in 2015, she was committed to inspiring healing in her patients. Having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in her freshman year, she came through the experience with a very personal appreciation of the power of the work nurses do.  Since graduating, she has amply fulfilled that promise. Earlier this year, the Tucson native moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where she works as a pediatric nurse at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Her desire to serve the underserved also led her to volunteer at a local public health clinic as well as a remote mountain village in Haiti.

Why did you pursue a career in nursing?

When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, it was so severe that it got to the point that I almost died. All of the comorbidities that accompanied that period in my life were really challenging. There were frequent trips to the hospital and I had to take several medical withdrawals from school. I had really good nurses, and honestly, pretty awful nurses through that experience. But it made me realize I had the calling to inspire healing in my patients. I saw what a difference it made in my healing to have someone who cared, who really tried to not only offer great nursing care but a good mentality to promote healing from within.

“Nursing school is a difficult time in everybody's life, including the instructors, so it helped that the MEPN program was really organized. The program was fast-paced and intense, but they did a great job of covering a huge amount of material in just 15 months." ~ Sarah Stafford Evans, UA College of Nursing MEPN Graduate 

What was your experience in the MEPN program like?

Nursing school is a difficult time in everybody’s life, including the instructors, so it helped that the MEPN program was really organized. The program was fast-paced and intense, but they did a great job covering a huge amount of material in just 15 months. On top of that, the camaraderie I had with my cohort was very strong. You build a family going through school, but at the same time you’re getting an education that’s going to not only prepare you but set you ahead. I was ahead of the curve in the professional realm when I started my job hunt.

What have you been doing since graduation?

Dr. Deborah Williams recommended me for a public health nursing job here in Fairbanks. I didn’t end up taking that position, but my husband and I liked the idea of coming to Alaska, so I applied for a job in pediatrics at the one hospital that they have. We flew up to visit and we liked it. In January, we sold everything we had, bought a truck, put the dogs in it and drove up. Currently, I’m on the pediatric floor. I’m on a couple of committees in the hospital and I volunteer with the public health clinic.

Sarah Stafford Evans

Can you tell us about your volunteer work in Haiti?

I’ve always been interested in rural medicine. When I was in college, I volunteered in free health clinics in Mexico. It was amazing experience, so when I found out that one of our pediatricians was involved in a group that goes to Haiti every year, I applied. Last January, I spent two weeks there. The group I went with had built a clinic in the mountains because the highly underserved villages previously only had access to health care in Port au Prince, which was a good five or six hours away. Many residents don’t have vehicles and have to pay motorcycles to get them to care. They do a lot of blood pressure medication and they have a program that benefits children suffering from malnutrition. There are a lot of women there who need prenatal care, so they recently started a program where the women come in every month for their ultrasound. During my time there, we saw a lot of pregnant women and we delivered quite a few babies. There was a lot of death and a lot that we couldn’t do, which was really devastating considering the interventions would have pretty minimal. But it was a great learning experience and I definitely want to go back.

What do you envision for the future?

Here in Alaska, there’s a big need for competent health care in the more remote areas. I’d like to set up practice in a way that I can go to go to rural areas that are unable to come to us unless it’s something really acute. My dad was a pilot, so I got my pilot’s license really young. I see myself flying into the villages with supplies, and providing care a couple months at a time, then regrouping in town. That’s kind of where I’m headed, but I try not to plan too far ahead.

What drew you to pursue a pediatric specialty?

I believe in fate. When we came up here, the only open positions at the hospital that really called to me were ER and pediatrics, and the ER wasn’t taking any new grads. I applied for peds and I’ve come to love it. It’s a challenge because you’re not just treating the patient, you’re treating the entire family, and trying to manage the parent’s stress just as much if not more than the child’s. You can walk into one room and have a newborn that’s septic, or go next door and find a toddler that’s angry that you’re there, and then you’ve got a teenager in the next room that just doesn’t want to be there. You have to master so many different approaches. The pediatrics population took my heart, because they’re the ones that are really educating our communities. They retain information we give them and they spread it through their towns and villages and their friends and families, even if it’s as simple as handwashing.