The Fall 2018 class of Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars includes students from all over the region, in various stages of life with one common goal – to make a difference in healthcare throughout Appalachia. Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the ARH Scholars program. Recipients are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare.
Hannah Busroe was born and raised in Harlan County, Kentucky, surrounded by a family with deep roots in the healthcare field. Her grandfather on her mother’s side, Dr. Albino Nunez, worked for Harlan ARH after immigrating to the United States from the Philippines. After earning his degree in the Philippines, his family pulled together the money to send him to New Orleans to live the American dream. There he met his wife, Hannah’s grandmother, and together they moved to Appalachia.
“Originally, he couldn’t speak any English, but he met my grandmother and they ended up falling in love and getting married. That’s how my family was formed,” Hannah says. “My grandparents sat down and decided where they could go and use their services to create the most good. They ended up in Harlan County and they came here with nothing. They had three children, my mom who became a pharmacist, my uncle who became a dentist and my aunt who became a nurse, and they all ended up coming back to Harlan.”
Hannah grew up down the street from her grandparents where her family would have Sunday dinner full of conversation about community involvement and their careers in healthcare. This experience sparked her interest in the medical field and she began exploring opportunities by working in her mother’s pharmacy.
“I kind of always knew I would go into the medical field,” she says. “I can remember when I was young my grandfather would sit me on his lap and we would look through his medical books that he created himself. When he was in school in the Philippines, he couldn’t afford his textbooks so he had to go to the library and hand copy or hand draw all of the material so he could study. I just remember thinking about how much of a commitment that must have been. Now that he has passed away those books are an example to me and my family that hard work pays off and sometimes it’s not easy, but he made it.”
Hannah initially attended the University of Kentucky (UK) to obtain her undergraduate degree in Human Health Sciences with a plan to later study Pharmacy. After shadowing a Pharmacist through a program at UK, she realized it was not the career path for her.
“It wasn’t as hands-on as I was used to seeing at my mom’s business,” she says. “I hit that point where I told my mom I didn’t like every aspect of pharmacy. She sat me down and told me if I didn’t like everything about the job then it may not be the career for me. That following summer I shadowed an Optometrist in Middlesboro, Kentucky, and I just knew it was the program for me.”
Knowing there was a slim chance she would receive early acceptance, Hannah applied for the Optometry program at the University of Pikeville (UPIKE) before completing her undergraduate studies at UK.
“I just kind of put all of my eggs in one basket and figured if I got accepted then I could go ahead and go and if not then I would finish at UK and try again to get into UPIKE,” she says. “All of the pieces just put themselves together and I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be on the career path I’m supposed to be on.”
In July 2018, she began the Optometry program at UPIKE and is set to graduate in May 2022. She is excited to study something she is truly passionate about at a university that allows her to stay close to home in the community she loves. After just about six months in the program Hannah has been immersed in the world of optometry through mission trips to Jamaica and Guatemala. These experiences have allowed her to see the kind of impact she can make through her work.
“Working in optometry, I’m able to help someone who may not even be able to provide for their family because of blindness that can be treated by simply giving them glasses,” she says. “Giving them that opportunity is such an awesome power to have in this profession. I have worn glasses and contacts since third grade and I can only imagine how life would have been if I hadn’t been able to see and live a daily life. Knowing that through Optometry I can help children proceed in their education and not fall behind is such an exciting thing for me.”
In addition to seeing the impact of optometry through hands-on experience, Hannah has a family connection motivating her. Her grandfather on her father’s side is going blind from Macular Degeneration. Seeing the impact that has had on his life motivates her to work hard in her program to help prevent those sorts of conditions.
When she received the news that she was chosen as a Fall 2018 ARH Scholar, Hannah was extremely excited. Her application was a very quick turnaround as she learned about the program just one week before the application deadline.
“I was just scrolling through Facebook and saw an ad about the program,” Hannah says. “I looked at the requirements and thought this was important for me to apply for because ARH is important to me and my family, but they employ so many people here in Harlan. I was able to get all of the materials together at the last minute and apply. I was very excited to find out all of that hard work paid off. It’s so relieving to know that there are other people beyond myself and my family who believe in me and my abilities who are pushing me to continue my education and career.”
After graduation Hannah is unsure of what her next step will be. She is interested in continuing her education to allow her to offer services beyond comprehensive exams. Regardless of her decision, she plans to return home to Harlan and eventually open her own practice.
“I think the biggest thing is just to serve Appalachia and give people who are challenged by vision deficiencies and difficulties the gift of sight,” Hannah says. “I think it’s something that a lot of people take for granted because we don’t think about how much we rely on our sight for everything from cooking to working and driving and even the smallest things. Knowing I can make a difference in a child’s life or an elderly patient’s life as their vision begins to decline is huge. Having the opportunity to give people sight with my knowledge is a huge opportunity and something I hope to do to my fullest capacity.”