Prioritize rest. — Sleep is crucial for our body’s ability to reset and to effectively achieve our daily goals. It even impacts our reactions to other people and situations. You should practice good sleep hygiene. If falling asleep is a problem, look up sleep meditations or yoga videos and slowly work toward a more relaxing nighttime routine. In my family, we have always made sleep a top priority. We protect bedtime, even for my husband and myself, so we can keep our energy up for the kids and work during the week.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Ellis.
Ashley Ellis is a pharmacist, an educator and a business owner. She co-founded and works full-time as director of clinical operations for Compwell, a Memphis-based chronic care management company. In addition to her day job, Ashley is a mother of three and an advocate on the national level for eczema, an issue affecting 9.6 million of the nation’s children, including Ashley’s daughter.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I’ve been a pharmacist for more than a dozen years and have spent my career weaving together innovative practice settings with evidence-based health care to provide every patient with the highest level of care. I’ve worked in primary care, academia, pharmacy ownership and consulting, and I am particularly passionate about diabetes care. In my clinical experience, I began to recognize the impact the lack of preventive care for chronic conditions has on both patients and our health care system, leading me to co-found Compwell in 2019.
In addition to my day-to-day chronic care management role, I also use my expertise to fight for young people with atopic dermatitis (severe eczema), which affects my daughter. I serve as a mentor for the “Support for Eczema Caregivers Program” with Global Parents for Eczema Research, as well as a spokesperson for the organization’s “Understand AD” campaign.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
I once had a patient with uncontrolled diabetes who told me that his five brothers and sisters, none of whom were living, were each buried with the amputation of at least one limb due to diabetes. He went on to say that he knew that would happen to him, too, so he didn’t really see a point in putting too much effort into his own care. I stopped dead in my tracks and told him “That is not happening to you — not on my watch.” I then explained to him that it was simply a myth that his diabetes couldn’ be controlled, and things like amputation can be totally preventable. Through working with him on his medication, a new diet and working to help him implement other lifestyle changes, we were able to get his diabetes-related labs under control within three months, significantly decreasing his risk of amputation. I know these stories are commonplace, especially in the South — where I was born and live today — and this is one of the many reasons why I feel such an imperative to make lasting change for our communities.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had a mentor-type relationship with an older practitioner before I went to pharmacy school. Over the course of that relationship, we maintained that “little sister” dynamic despite my professional growth and years of experience, awards, residency and network. He made several statements about his perceptions of my strengths and weaknesses, as well as which areas he thought I shouldn’t pursue, and I allowed both my trust and our history to color my view of myself — doubting my abilities for several years. What I learned is that I am capable of achieving any goal I set for myself. Although others might have motivations to doubt those goals, I cannot allow those people, no matter who they are, to set my limits for me.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to Dr. Randall Huling at Olive Branch Family Medical Center. Dr. Huling is a primary care provider and clinic owner who employed me for three years. I admire his progressive leadership and management style, as well as his openness to ideas. He always let me — at minimum — explore every idea I brought to him without shutting it down. I am also forever grateful in his belief in my abilities — specifically that he was open to having me on staff as a pharmacist and diabetes educator at his clinic. I learned so much in that position, not only about my role and how clinics should run, but also other intangible pieces of knowledge that benefit me to this day, as I now work with numerous clinics, physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Chronic Care Management (CCM) is a program that Medicare initially designed to help beneficiaries remain in better communication with their providers between scheduled visits. Things may happen during that “between” time, such as falls, rising blood glucose or rising blood pressure readings. In that time, patients may even experience changing housing or transportation needs, hospitalizations, specialist visits, or a new need for refills or immunizations. With CCM, a care coordinator calls a patient once a month to coordinate these needs. That includes making sure they have medication refills sent to the pharmacy, test results sent to the provider so medication dosages can be adjusted, etc. This monthly call can help prevent small problems from going unchecked and progressing into something more complicated and costly. We have also adapted this service for employer groups so they can help employees to prevent diabetes, achieve a healthy weight, stop using tobacco products, or even help them find a primary care provider to access preventive screenings their employer already pays for.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey toward better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Identify your “why.” — What makes you want to be healthy? For me, it is that I do not want to miss out on any memory with my children — like riding amusement park rides or hiking or camping — due to my health. I want my children to remember their mother being present.
- Reframe exercise. — Exercise isn’t a punishment for what you ate, and it’s not just for weight loss or bikini body purposes. Exercise is a way to celebrate what your body is capable of doing, and it can be something you enjoy doing. After my third child, I had a herniated disc that suddenly burst, causing severe pain and a loss of flexibility. After I was told that exercise was the primary treatment for this injury, yoga and walking became lifelines to me. Now, almost three years later, my flexibility is better than it’s ever been and every time I practice, I leave feeling proud of what my body can accomplish. This stands opposed to the views I had earlier in my life, when it was just about figuring out how many calories I burned versus how many I consumed.
- Routine for activity is important. — While COVID-19 has made this harder, whether we are working at home, virtually schooling or still commuting — find a routine. Maybe it’s walking at lunchtime, after the kids go to bed, on Saturday mornings, or for 10 minutes after each meal — whatever works for you. Decide what that routine is and commit to it. For me, it was committing to virtual yoga twice a week, using my Peloton two times a week and walking outside on days with good weather. Pre-COVID, it was going to the local park for a walk during my lunch hour. Regardless, I have always found that when I can automate it, like a routine, instead of being consumed with decision fatigue, I am more likely to accomplish it.
- Don’t let distractors get you down. — Everyone is on their own wellness journey. It is much easier when those who live with you are on the same track. However, if others you work or live with don’t share your goals, you shouldn’t feel the need to win them over. Just set expectations with them as to what YOU will do. Tell them you will exercise or bring a healthy side dish to a get-together — and THEY will adjust. My family has now made a joke out of me packing healthy snacks or making a Christmas tree shaped veggie plate for our family gatherings. But it not only provides healthy appetizers, it makes great leftovers for lunches and snacks the week after!
- Prioritize rest. — Sleep is crucial for our body’s ability to reset and to effectively achieve our daily goals. It even impacts our reactions to other people and situations. You should practice good sleep hygiene. If falling asleep is a problem, look up sleep meditations or yoga videos and slowly work toward a more relaxing nighttime routine. In my family, we have always made sleep a top priority. We protect bedtime, even for my husband and myself, so we can keep our energy up for the kids and work during the week.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would prioritize investment in preventive care and early intervention in chronic care identification. Our entire health care system is built on a model of seeking care when we are sick or need something. The problem is, by the time we can detect those problems ourselves, they could often already be catastrophic. In fact, some people live eight to 10 years with undiagnosed diabetes. For example, if a person has a headache from high blood pressure, that means it may already be at stroke level. It would be much more effective if we were to prevent these conditions from the beginning or detect them in their early stages with up-front investments such as making cities more walkable, free gym memberships and ensuring the availability of healthy eating education. If we were to accomplish this, it would not only pay off in dividends on the backend, every American could be on the pathway to creating a future of healthier familial and social cultures.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Be flexible! If you don’t bend, you will break.
- Everyone makes mistakes. Own them quickly and learn from them.
- The only one who can tell me that I can’t do something is me.
- There are so many ways to be successful. Be open to possibilities.
- Never apologize for being 100% authentically yourself.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I think everybody can benefit from therapy, learning more about themselves and how to better relate to others. My daughter’s eczema has affected her mental health, and I also see it impacting so many of my patients’ physical health. To manage my own mental health, I find yoga and outdoor exercise to be beneficial. They help me to reset and pay attention to how intense situations affect my physical body and overall wellness.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashley-ellis-pharmd-cdecs-98558714/.