UK HealthCare employee perseveres despite pandemic, cancer diagnosis to earn art degree
LEXINGTON, Ky. (December 16, 2021) – Sometimes when you know, you know.
For Ambre Armstrong, a native of Madisonville, Ky., Pursuing art was not easy. In fact, she decided, when she was finishing high school, to study something else at the college level, earning a geography degree from Western Kentucky University in 2006. But one moving and fateful day visiting the Museum of he modern art of New York 10 years later would change the way he thinks.
The road ahead for Armstrong would be a test of perseverance from day one. To make the university accessible to him, the British health worker attended university part-time, taking advantage of the advantages of the United Kingdom. Employee training program (PEE). Thanks to EEP, full-time employees in the UK have up to eight canceled course credit hours per semester.
However, the long hours of working full-time and earning a part-time degree would only be part of the challenge. Armstrong is also expected to work at a frontline facility – Good Samaritan Hospital – during a global pandemic, and his own fear of personal health on the road to graduation.
UKNow recently caught up with Amber Armstrong, graduating from December 2021, to find out what it took for her to reach her goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in digital media and design UK School of Art and Visual Studies (UK SAVS).
UKNow: You had a bit of an unusual start at university. What made you decide to go back to college in your late 30s?
Armstrong: I have always loved art but never had any advice or training. Honestly, I didn’t think I could be an artist.
In October 2016, my mom and I took a trip to New York City. As I walked around the MoMA, I was so inspired that I started to cry inside the museum. I decided at that point that I was going to go back to art school and follow my passion. I signed up for UK SAVS and started in January 2017.
I worked part time for the duration of this degree as I had to remain a full time employee in the UK.
UKNow: You work with UK HealthCare. Tell us a bit about what your job involves?
Armstrong: I am a patient office assistant at Good Samaritan Hospital. You can think of me as the unit secretary. I am the face you see first at the nursing station to greet patients and families. I help patients move to and from our floor, answer patient calls, answer phones, and generally try to run the unit as efficiently as possible.
UKNow: How has your work in the UK helped you pursue your college dreams?
Armstrong: One of the perks of working full time for the UK is the EEP program. The UK pays for six hours of college per semester. So it made sense to continue my studies part-time while working full-time.
UKNow: Are your colleagues supporting you to graduate?
Armstrong: I was lucky with my colleagues. We all support each other in everything that gets us going in our lives.
UKNow: What was it like to balance work and your studies?
Armstrong: This has not been easy. My shifts are 12.5 hours at Good Samaritain. There were many days I worked, went home to shower, went to SAVS to work until early in the morning, then returned to work at 7 a.m. Sometimes sleep is put aside in order to do everything.
UKNow: What is your favorite part of studying at the UK School of Art and Visual Studies?
Armstrong: This degree program is amazing because you have the opportunity to find out what you like and don’t like. There are so many art forms that I might not have been exposed to in another program. You can take photography, 3D printing, painting, drawing, engraving, etc. However, I have discovered that I have a genuine love for printmaking. I will always integrate some form of printmaking in my artistic practice.
UKNow: What has been the best part about pursuing your studies in digital media and design?
Armstrong: I should say learn and be challenged. I enjoyed and will continue to love becoming the artist I never thought I could become.
I have always had the most fun looking at my friends’ art. It’s a great feeling to see their art take hold, everyone appreciating what they have created and the joy that comes from those experiences.
UKNow: Is there a particular faculty member that you enjoyed working with or are you considering a mentor?
Armstrong: There are two that I really enjoyed learning about, Jonathan mcfadden and David wischer. I learned so much about my art practice in Jonathan’s classes. He is an encyclopedia of knowledge and is happy to share it with his students. He’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.
David is also an amazing teacher; I literally couldn’t have graduated without his help. He is always available to his students and is really attentive.
UKNow: More recently you have experienced the added stress of a pandemic in all aspects of your life, but especially while working in a healthcare facility.
Armstrong: Honestly, it was tough on all of the employees. Each wave makes us all uncomfortable because of the impact it has on us at work, our families and our communities. It causes us additional stress, everyone is really exhausted.
UKNow: To what extent has the pandemic made work-study balance more difficult? Have you thought about taking a break?
Armstrong: Really, the pandemic has just created more stress in all aspects of my life. All the added stress can be overwhelming and drain you.
UKNow: In addition to a pandemic, you also went through a major health alert during this time. Would you like to share a bit about this?
Armstrong: On April Fool’s Day 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was at the very start of the pandemic, so everything was uncertain. I was taking medicine to inhibit the growth of cancer. However, I was unsure of when I might have my surgeries due to the closure of various operating theaters due to the pandemic. It was really hard and stressful.
Then, navigating chemo during a pandemic is especially scary because it boosts your immune system. I had to work in a hospital the day after each chemotherapy treatment. I had to take a semester out of school to take care of the chemo and the second set of surgeries. After my surgeries and treatments, I was able to come back and finish my studies.
UKNow: How did SAVS and / or UK HealthCare help you during this time?
Armstrong: My advisor, Jane andrus, helped me get my degree. She helped guide me with classes that worked with my schedule, throughout my degree. She checked in with me to see how I was going through some of my toughest times at SAVS. She really cares about the students and is an asset to the UK.
the Markey Cancer Center It’s incredible. I cannot say enough good things about my treatment team. Dr (Erin) Burke, Dr (Mara) Chambers, Dr (Charles) Dietrich and Dr (Lesley) Wong were all amazing. Everyone on my treatment team, from my social worker to my genetic counselor, has really helped me along my journey.
UKNow: Another support system that was there for you?
Armstrong: My family and friends have been very supportive of me. I am especially grateful for my mother and my fiance. It was so hard on my mom. She doesn’t live here and with the COVID raging and no one having a vaccine at first, I didn’t want her to come here. I didn’t want to risk exposing him to COVID. So she had to deal with everything remotely with phone calls, which was really difficult emotionally.
My fiance was my caregiver throughout. I can’t imagine going through this without him. He literally had to do almost everything for me for a while. He never complained, he just took care of me. Her parents also helped after the surgery. They really fed it all.
UKNow: What advice would you give to someone else who has encountered great adversity in the course of their work and / or school?
Armstrong: It’s so easy to get overwhelmed that it can be overwhelming. For me it was really important that I focus on what needed to be done first and then move on to the next thing. If I watched all that needed to be done, it was intimidating.
If you have a support network, open up to them. Be honest about your mental / physical situation and ask for help if you need it. If you don’t have a support network, please search for one. I promise you there are people who will support you and love you.
UKNow: Now that you’re just a few steps away from graduation, how do you feel?
Armstrong: It is a relief ! Leaving on time, of course, makes graduation longer. I have been through so much during this time, it is an accomplishment.
UKNow: And what is the next step after taking the start step?
Armstrong: I am going to start looking seriously for a job in this field and I am delighted to see how this degree will help me to open new doors for myself.
The UK December launch ceremonies will take place at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. this Friday, December 17. More information is available at https://commencement.uky.edu/.