Where do you live? Frisco, CO
What is your profession? Family Nurse Practitioner
How did you get into health care and what was your path leading up to this? I always knew I wanted to go into health care and work with people. I was most interested in acute and emergency care. While I was in high school and thinking about college, I was interested in becoming a paramedic or a physician’s assistant. At a university tour, I happened to stop by the Army ROTC booth where the savvy recruiter, Captain Bass, talked me into considering taking a nursing path (the Army was rather desperate for nurses at that time). I was not opposed to a full scholarship to a private university, so I applied and was surprised when I was the recipient of an Army ROTC scholarship.
I was conflicted during school as a hippy who was a fan of non-violence, while at the same time as I was learning to use a machine gun and lead troops in combat. I stuck with it and upon graduation, started working as an emergency room nurse in an Army trauma center in El Paso, Texas. Shortly thereafter, I volunteered to spend a year working in Baghdad, Iraq in the emergency room. It was 2005–2006 and we were very busy seeing patients wounded in combat. I gained a wealth of trauma experience and confidence in that environment, and I met my husband to be. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. I never used my weapon for any sort of violence against another person (although I may have used the butt of the M16 to exterminate a pesky rat in my quarters one night). The patients we cared for were primarily Iraqi nationals, often children, and I felt like I was really making a difference helping people in desperate need of life-saving care.
After returning to the US, I was relocated to Tacoma, Washington where I worked in another busy trauma center emergency room. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I learned to love mountain biking, which has become a passion for me and I currently race mountain bikes professionally when I’m not busy being a nurse practitioner. I lived in Tacoma for a year and a half before finishing my active duty obligation and joining the Army Reserves.
With my new found freedom, I took some time off to focus on outdoor pursuits including mountain biking, rock climbing and skiing. I landed in Colorado and, on a whim, decided to apply to the nurse practitioner program at University of Colorado Denver. I wanted more autonomy and to have a larger impact on the health of my patients. The FNP program was fairly competitive, but I was a given preference coming right out of the Army, so I was accepted.
Upon graduation, I was very lucky to be able to bank on my Spanish-language skills and I landed a job in a mountain town where I currently work in a Community Health Center seeing patients who are often uninsured, underserved and in great need of care. I also work at an urgent care clinic. I also race mountain bikes professionally and I’m a brand ambassador and a mountain biking coach in my spare time.
What did you study in school? My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing with a Spanish minor. I have always loved to travel, especially in Latin America, so Spanish seemed like a good skill to develop. I have a Master’s of Science as a Family Nurse Practitioner. Pretty straight forward.
Has anyone been a mentor to you? What role did they play and how do you feel about mentorship now? I have been lucky to have had many mentors. In the Army Nurse Corps, mentorship is ingrained in us through the rank structure and in our schooling. An early mentor of mine was Captain Angeles- she was a no-nonsense, by-the book ER nurse working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC where I spent 2 weeks the summer of my junior year in college. I loved her high energy and I try to bring that with me to work. We humans are such social creatures- I feel like if I bring a positive attitude to work, it will spread to my co-workers and then come back to me!
What’s the hardest thing that you’ve had to deal with in your career so far? At first I really struggled working with patients in family practice who have health priorities for themselves that are different from the priorities I might have for them. I’ve learned that I can’t help people take care of themselves if I don’t meet them where they’re at, so that’s what I try to do when I have one of those patients in the exam room. For instance, a person might come in for low back pain who is a smoker, overweight and hasn’t had appropriate screening tests for diseases for more than 5 years. First I address the reason that they came in. If a patient takes time out of their busy day and they leave still in pain, then no matter what I’ve done to help them, then they will feel like I didn’t help them because they are still in pain. Then, I let them know what I’m worried about and I invite them to make it a priority. If they are engaged, then we can work on that, whether it be weight or depression or cancer screening. I guess the hardest thing is knowing how to prioritize in order to keep me and my patients happy.
One of the hardest things to do well, is deliver the news to a patient that they are suffering from a potentially lethal diagnosis, like cancer. This is especially difficult because most often, I’m telling this to a person who has not been to the doctor’s office in a long time, and the diagnosis might have been caught earlier or even prevented. In addition to telling the patient this unfortunate diagnosis, I have to deal with the fact that I feel like I’ve let them down somehow, even if they are a new patient, I feel like the healthcare system has let them down, and I’m a part of that system. I just have to do the best I can for them, and learn from the experience.
What has been a really rewarding moment in your career? I work a lot with teens and it happens from time to time, that I get to seem them engage and take action to make their health a priority in their lives. I love watching them decide how to mold their life into their own as they become young adults and learn and grow and make choices about their health for themselves.
What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime? I have a long list! It includes things like summiting Denali and playing the fiddle again one day (I still have my violin from when I was in youth orchestra). I would like to live in a foreign country at some point as well. So many goals …
What’s something you want young women to remember when thinking about their future? Your future is your’s. You can make it whatever you want, whenever you want. I think its important to have no regrets. Mistakes I’ve made were all valuable lessons that I’ve learned from and have made me who I am today. They help me relate to others and give me a wisdom that I wouldn’t have without those experiences and they help me to point my future in the right direction.
What’s one thing you want to try to make an impact on in your lifetime? I’ve always made it a personal goal to leave things better than I found them; whether it be the trailhead or a person that I’m seeing in the clinic; I just want my impact on the world to be a positive one.
Where can people find you on social media if they’d like to connect with you?
Linkedin: Leigh Bowe