HEAL Spotlight: Ashley Nmoh

  • Name: Ashley Nmoh
  • Originated from: Nashville, Tennessee but Nigeria will always be home
  • Global public health areas of expertise:  Health Equity, Qualitative Research, Maternal and Child Health, Women’s Health, Health Education and Promotion
  • Educational background: I graduated in May 2020 from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor’s in Medicine, Health and Society and a Concentration in Global Health. I plan to enroll in a combined MD/MPH program in Fall 2022.
  • Jobs before your current position: I worked as a community health educator and also interned with the Vanderbilt Institute of Global Health.
  • Best advice you’ve ever received: Work as if everything depends on you and pray as if everything depends on God.
  • Advice you’d give to emerging global public health professionals: Be true to yourself and pursue what you’re passionate about. Let your passion drive you. Do things that you are afraid of and always pursue opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone. On the other side of fear and comfort is growth and purpose.
  • Personal website: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashleynmoh

Your story

I was born and raised in Nashville, TN with immigrant parents from Nigeria. Growing up in a working-class Nigerian family, I saw barriers to accessing quality healthcare both in America and Nigeria. I would often hear stories of a family member in Nigeria who passed away from simple sicknesses that in America would have been easily treatable. In America, though we have such a robust, quality healthcare system, I noticed that not everyone was able to access it. We often saw healthcare as a luxury we just couldn’t afford. We found ourselves drowning in medical bills from injuries my dad acquired at work, and we only went to the doctor if we absolutely had to. When my grandfather came to America to seek medical care, we were fortunately able to find doctors who would treat him for free at the Shade Tree Community Clinic at Vanderbilt, which served uninsured and underinsured families. That was the first time I really began to see the healthcare system in a positive light. I had always been interested in medicine, but this was the first time that I met doctors whom I wanted to be like and saw the kind of medicine I wanted to practice. The doctors treated us with respect and listened to our story, did their best to holistically understand our situation and culture, and did lots of work to provide access to healthcare for the uninsured and underinsured in Nashville. It wasn’t about money—it was about helping people and communities. Seeing those doctors brought hope to our family amidst a time when my grandfather was extremely sick and my parents were hit economically by the recession.

In college, I was able to explore the healthcare system more both inside and outside the classroom and in America as well as abroad. I did a lot of public health work with immigrant, refugee, and low-income populations in Nashville. I was fortunate to participate in a service-learning trip in South Africa where I served at the Missionvale Community Health Center—a small health center located in a rural community where two-thirds of the population were infected with HIV. Community members would wake up at the crack of dawn and stand in line for hours just to see the community doctor that day. Seeing this need broke my heart, and I knew I wanted to be a doctor that met the needs of the underserved.

I also studied abroad for four months in Kenya on a Global Health Program. While in Kenya with nine other students, we had experts visit us from the CDC and other international organizations and NGOs.

Ashley with her study abroad group in Kenya

My study abroad group and I learned about global health inside and outside of the classroom. We visited a lot of clinics and hospitals and visited Rwanda and Uganda to compare national healthcare systems. We also had to do an independent research project on whatever topic we were interested in.

Ashley with some of the kids near her homestay in Simenya Village, Kenya

I became passionate about cancer management in Africa when, in Uganda, I noticed a lot of women sleeping on the concrete outside of the hospital. I was told that they had traveled for hours and days to receive cancer care and could not afford housing. That piqued my interest. My host sister’s aunt in Kenya also had breast cancer, and her husband divorced her because of cancer-related stigma. I decided to explore cancer care and discourse more in Nairobi, and in particular, how cancer affected women. I traveled there by myself, formed connections through Facebook with cancer care NGOs, and met with doctors working in the field. I connected with cancer survivors and patients, interviewing over 50 cancer survivors, warriors and caretakers through these cancer NGOs. The overwhelming majority of them discussed the stigma associated with cancer, the overly expensive cost of healthcare, misdiagnosis, the lack of access to oncologists, and other issues. I did this in three weeks and grew tremendously personally and professionally. I discovered I loved qualitative research and was transformed by these women’s stories. I advocated for these women in front of the Kenya CDC and really saw how public health research can give voice to lived experiences and lend itself to advocacy.

Ashley with Limau Cancer Support Group members in Nairobi

All these experiences showed me the barriers that exist to accessing quality healthcare globally and have put a fire in me to create effective solutions to these problems. This passion is what led me to my current research assistant position where we’re trying to find the best ways to help newborns grow up healthy by providing health education to mothers, many of whom have low income and are immigrants or refugees. It has also led me to pursue an MD/MPH to become a physician working in public health so I can make a difference on the individual, as well as wider scale and holistically meet the needs of my patients, just like the doctors at Shade Tree and at Missionvale.

Inner Lantern glow-up 

  • Lessons learned over the last year or so: The importance of quality relationships! Last year was tough for many people due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I don’t think I would have gotten through it as well without the group of supportive friends, family and mentors that I have on my side. I learned the importance of investing in and prioritizing relationships. I also learned the importance of networking and utilizing the network that I already have.
  • What’s your current life motto: “Sometimes the fear won’t go away. Do it afraid.”
  • What’s your favorite global health organization/agency and why: UNICEF! I’d love to work with the organization one day. I love children, and I’m passionate about the work they’re doing to secure the well-being of children worldwide.
  • If you didn’t have to work what would you do: I like to keep myself busy and so I would still be working in some way. I’d probably involve myself in meaningful non-profit work in my community, especially work involving children. I’d also spend a lot of time travelling, exploring nature, and spending time with family and friends.
  • What is one of your proudest accomplishments: The independent research project I did while studying abroad in Kenya. Looking back, I’m realizing that I accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time with very few connections in a new country.
  • Coolest global public health specialization to be in: Definitely maternal and child health
  • Currently reading/listening to: The Professional Troublemaker: The Fear Fighter Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones
  • Ways you practice protecting your energy: Sundays are my self-care days. I go to church, spend time with God and in nature, listen to music, and just relax. I’m introverted and need my alone time to recharge.
  • What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned thus far: To not let fear stop me from going after opportunities and pursuing my purpose
  • What is special about the place where you grew up: Nashville is “the birthplace of country music” and a lot of attractions in the city are based on that
  • What job would you be terrible at: Probably any kind of engineering job or anything involving too much technology and math
  • What makes you happy: Sunshine, nature, the smiles of children, good food
  • Favorite place to eat in your hometown/area you’re currently living in: Thai Satay in Nashville!
  • What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation: Health Disparities, Racism, Intersectionality, Barriers to Accessing Healthcare
  • What industry do you think will be revolutionized soon: Definitely the technology and entertainment industry due to the pandemic
  • Urgent issues in global public health you wished more people knew/cared about: The high maternal mortality rates for Black women in the U.S.
  • What do you wish you knew more about: 1. The arts! Whether that’s visual art, music, dance etc. I really want to tap into my creative side more this year 2. The healthcare systems in Asia and Latin America
  • Favorite artists: Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and India Arie
  • What location is at the top of your travel bucket list: I have so many places but my top 3 would be 1) Indonesia 2) Jamaica 3) Ghana
  • What lifestyle changes are you trying to make: I think the biggest lifestyle change I’m focusing on is changing my mindset and being more intentional about manifesting and speaking positivity into my life despite whatever circumstance I may find myself in. I’m also working on healthier eating.
  • What fictional place do you dream of going to: Wakanda!
  • What is worth splurging on every time: Travelling to new places! Every travel experience I’ve had has positively changed me or changed the way that I view the world
  • Where do you dream of working as a doctor: My parents raised me with a lot of respect and love for my culture, so it’s still in my heart to go back to Nigeria and give back in any way I can
  • How will you make your life a “meaningful life:” By zealously chasing after my purpose and using it to serve others. By using every single drop of the gifts God has given me in the service of those in need. By being surrounded by love and giving love.
Ashley with her host mom and host sister in Kisumu, Kenya
Ashley with her host mom in Simenya Village, Kenya
  • Most memorable gift that you’ve ever received: For my birthday a few years ago, my mom bought me Michelle Obama’s book Becoming.
  • Who do you go out of your way to be nice to: I’m nice to everyone, but I especially go out of my way to be nice to people who may feel as if they are invisible or forgotten, including the elderly, children, service workers, etc.
  • What makes you angry: Health disparities and racism. I could rant about these topics all day.
  • Three words those close to you would use to describe you: Passionate, driven, supportive
  • Favorite candy/snack/dessert: Oreos
  • Life goals: I hope to become a physician that does public health work to help create access to quality healthcare for underserved communities both in the U.S. and Africa. I would love to start my own community healthcare clinic in Nigeria that provides quality, holistic, sustainable healthcare for those in need. My goal is to also do a lot of mentorship work with children, especially young girls, to show them that anything is possible.
  • Role models: Michelle Obama and other confident, daring women who aren’t afraid to use their voices for change.
  • What would your life meal be: Anything spicy! I love spicy food.
  • What is the best way that someone can spend their time: In the service of others and in the presence of loved ones.
  • You dream of a world where: Everyone is treated equally and has equal opportunity to accomplish their dreams.
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