Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars program. The ARH Scholars are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare. Their stories are unique, but a common thread unites every winner: a desire to make a difference to the people of Appalachia through healthcare. The Fall 2019 class of ARH Scholars included ten talented future healthcare providers, like Abigail Hamilton.
Abigail was born and raised in Barbourville and is now at Union College working toward her nursing degree. “I have two years left at Union, and then I plan on going straight on to the University of the Cumberlands to become a nurse practitioner. That program is a little over two years long.”
Neither of Abigail’s parents are in the medical field. “My mom is a paralegal, and my dad is a deputy jailer,” she says, “but I’ve always liked to care for people, I’ve always jumped to make sure that people are okay and taken care of before taking care of myself.”
Despite growing up with a desire to care for others, it was in the summer between her sixth and seventh grade year that Abigail’s interest in medicine was initially piqued. “I was diagnosed with a precancerous spot that had to be removed. The amount of tissue that they took off was pretty big, an inch all around, so it was really painful. I had to get a lot of shots to numb it, and I ended up with almost 30 stitches.” Abigail’s grandfather had just passed away from cancer, making the diagnosis and time spent in the hospital extra frightening. But throughout the process, from the diagnosis to the spot removal, Abigail remembers one nurse being exceptionally kind. “My parents weren’t able to go back with me during the procedure, but she was so comforting. It really made a difference to me and stuck with me. That’s why I started thinking about going into medicine myself.”
For the next few years following her procedure, Abigail continued to spend time in the hospital, but this time, she was volunteering. “I logged over a hundred hours at a local hospital. Every summer I would volunteer 5 to 8 hours a day while my mom was at work, taking water to patients, making care packages for the nursery, and working at the surgery center.” Abigail says that program, and speaking to cousins who’ve pursued nursing, helped her decide to pursue nursing herself. “Also, I know that it’s a great field to go into. We always need nurses.”
The need for nurses, especially in rural areas, inspires Abigail to return home to Barbourville after achieving her degree. “I might go away from Barbourville for a while to finish my education and training, but ultimately I see myself settling back here. I want to be able to serve the people around my hometown. It’s a very small community, and right now we’re overtaken with drugs. We need more people helping here and investing back into this community.”
Whether in Barbourville or elsewhere, Abigail just wants to make a difference. “My mom says I’ve got the care-taking gene. I just want to help people feel better when they’re sick and improve the lives of the people in this area. Wherever I am, I just want to make an impact on my patients like that nurse made on me when I was a child.”