At the heart of Frontier Nursing University is a talented and diverse community of students, alumni, faculty, staff, Couriers and preceptors. Spotlight blogs feature members of our FNU community who are focused on the mission of educating nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners to deliver quality health care to underserved and rural populations.
In 1928, Mary Breckinridge, founder of Frontier Nursing University established the Courier Program, recruiting young people to work in the Kentucky Mountains and learn about service to humanity. Couriers escorted guests safely through remote terrain, delivered medical supplies to remote outpost clinics, and helped nurse-midwives during home visits and births. Frontier has benefited tremendously from the 1,600 Couriers who have served since 1928.
We had the opportunity for you to ask the Couriers questions. Here’s what they had to say.
Q: What are past Couriers doing today? – Nadia Stovicek
A: Due to the age group of our most recent Couriers, many Couriers are still pursuing their undergraduate education or are pursuing graduate medical programs. For more information about former Couriers, please visit our Courier Stories page on our website, or check out our Courier Program playlist.
Q: Why did you choose to spend your summer at Frontier? – Dr. Susan Stone, FNU President
A: “I was immediately drawn to the service learning focus of the Courier program and the immersive nature of the experience. It wasn’t just a 9-5 job shadowing program on a hospital unit. I wanted to get out of the space that I knew and learn more about healthcare, and life in general, with the hope that I would develop an understanding of how I could approach health and well-being in my own community from a more holistic perspective.” – Claire Gasparovich
“As a future CNM (certified nurse-midwife), I am inspired by the history and legacy of Mary Breckinridge. I also knew I’d be proud to walk among powerful female role models as a Courier, a program that largely began with women ages 19-25 riding horseback up hollers. I think that’s incredible.” – Zandy Stovicek
“I chose to spend a summer at Frontier for a mix of personal and professional reasons. On a professional level, I’m interested in rural health. This part of the country is also very underserved and I think we need more young people who are familiar with it and willing to advocate for it. On a personal level both of my paternal grandparents are from not too far from where I’m working, but I’ve never been to the part of the country they grew up in. It has been eye-opening.” – Matt Hodges
Q: What are some stereotypes the students had about the area? What have they learned about those stereotypes? Are any of the stereotypes true? Going forward, what can they do to dispel those stereotypes to their own family/friends back home? – Jamie Wheeler, FNU Staff Member
A: “The biggest stereotype I had coming in was that many towns in Appalachia are dead/lost towns without the coal industry. I have been disappointed that this is true to a degree, but the culture here is incredibly rich and vibrant with some of the most amazing people. When I leave this internship to go home, I hope that the economy is able to prosper in these regions and that this area does not actually become a lost town. Going back, I plan on sharing with people that this is a forgotten frontier but there is hope for the future.” – Brie Belz
“I had heard many negative stereotypes about the lack of literacy here and I found them incredibly false while being here. I will definitely not judge a population before getting to know them well as a result.” – Brigid Horan
“I believe I carried many of the stereotypes that we all think of when we consider rural life in Appalachia– images driven by careless media and dramatic television, not intentionally but because it was all I had ever seen. The idea that the area is overrun with substance abuse. That I would have a hard time getting people to trust me much less share their lives with me. That people were less educated or possibly less civilized. Over the last month I have learned so much to convince me that these things are untrue, and while Appalachia certainly has its struggles, it is a culture and a community that is made up of so much more than what many would like to believe. Like any place in any area of the world, it can not be taken at face value.” – Claire Gasparovich
Q: What was your family’s impression of you coming to rural Eastern Kentucky for the summer? – Jamie Wheeler, FNU Staff Member
A: “My mom and sister were both very enthusiastic about it. My sister knew a former Courier and is a practicing FNP and so was very optimistic about this experience for me. My mom is always looking for information so she researched the Courier program pretty intensively when I applied and when I was accepted. My dad and my brother were a bit more skeptical just because they didn’t have as much of an understanding about what I would be doing while here. After spending last summer in rural Ecuador, however, I think my parents were mostly just relieved that I’d be in the country.” – Calla Michalak
“My mom was worried, as all moms are, since she knew I would be going into an isolated area. Both of my parents drove down with me, and when they saw the town I would be in, they were comforted and pleased with it…. My family in general was supportive and excited for me because they knew that I love to travel and serve people; they thought this was a perfect opportunity for me.” – Brittany Imel
“They were super excited because I am the second one in my family to do the program.” – Brigid Horan (Brigid is the sister of Teresa Horan who served in 2013).
Q: How is East KY different than you expected? – Joel Brashear, Community Member and producer of ‘Our Mountains’
“I did not expect to love the area and the people as much as I do.” – Brigid Horan
“I definitely didn’t expect everyone to be so welcoming to us. Everyone that I’ve met here has been very warm and receptive to meeting the Couriers and chatting with us about their experiences living here and our experiences while visiting. In some situations, I think people assume that outsiders coming into a community are just looking for problems and things to change and are therefore hesitant to open up. I think Frontier’s legacy in this area has definitely given us a chance to get to know people in the community more quickly than we otherwise might have.” – Calla Michalak
Q: What is an ” Easy Win” change you see for Leslie County? I.e. One impactful change with minimal effort. – Joel Brashear, community member and producer of ‘Our Mountains’
A: “Install little libraries in rural neighborhoods for children, and install summer programs for teenagers to teach them how to be innovative in helping people.” – Ronnie Sloan
“I think Leslie County could benefit from transitioning to a tourist/outdoors town.” – Brittany Imel
“Mentoring program.” – Brigid Horan
Q: Can you share an “A-Ha” moment with us? – Stephanie Boyd, FNU staff member
A: “I think my a-ha moment was born out of the realization that I can’t make an immediate change here. For the first three weeks or so, I expected to be able to come into Leslie County and make a real and immediate impact on the health of the community. One day, when I was feeling kindof down about my lack of impact, I had a conversation that changed my outlook. I don’t think the point of us being here is to make radical changes. I think the point of the Courier program is to get us here learning about some of the issues that the people here face and WHY it is that these specific issues exist here. In gaining that knowledge, we will be able to eventually carry that deeper understanding into our futures as healthcare practitioners either here in Leslie County or in other underserved areas around the world.” – Calla Michalak
“I think my biggest “A-Ha” moment was when I realized the lack of communication in the county. Many people do not even realize that there is now a pediatrician, and that is due to no internet and the isolation.” – Brittany Imel
“There was one day at the Health Wagon when I was calling patients and trying to schedule follow-up appointments with them. I remember one woman specifically talked on the phone with me for nearly 45 minutes, sharing nearly every detail of her medical history over the last 15. At first I thought, “simple enough, come into the clinic and we will get you some answers.” That’s when she told me that not only did she live nearly 4 hours away, but she didn’t have a car. I felt pretty helpless and really stupid at that point. Even a completely free, full-service health clinic can’t be the perfect solution.” – Claire Gasparovich
Q: If you could summarize your courier experience with one hashtag what would it be? – Stephanie Boyd, FNU Staff Member
A: #slowdownstepup – Zandy Stovicek
#foreverlearner #grateful – Ronnie Sloan
#lifechanging – Brittany Imel
#tryingsomuchfood – Brigid Horan
Q: What advice do you have for future Couriers? – Joel Brashear, community member and producer of ‘Our Mountains’
A: “Think about your intentions going into this program. You only get out of it what you put in; to get to know the community, you will have to leave Wendover, say hi to strangers, go to community events. To do shadowing and other work at your clinical sites you will have to keep asking nurses if you can follow them, keep giving your boss ideas for projects, keep finding new programs to check out. If you can do that with a smile on your face, this is the program for you :)” – Zandy Stovicek
“I would say be open to the possibilities. As a person who would not be in the medical field, I learned the connection of healthcare of people in the community should be taken into account when I build and transform a city. I learned that being an urban planner is more than building a pretty city. It is about joining with others to build a more effective city that people can be proud of and thrive in.” – Ronnie Sloan