Beyond the Stethoscope: Giving students the confidence to navigate their own health care

Ashley Kiaralla, DNP, APRN, listening to her own heart with a stethoscope.

Meet Ashley Kairalla, DNP, APRN, a family medicine practitioner at the UF Student Health Care Center (SHCC), where she cares for students with acute and chronic conditions. Drawing from her experience in rural health, Ashley offers a compassionate approach to care, tailored to the diverse needs of college students. We sat down with her to discuss her journey into medicine and her mission to create a supportive environment for students, empowering them to navigate the complexities of the health care system with confidence.

When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in medicine?

Nursing is my first love, but is not my first degree. I graduated college initially without a clear career path and took a job as a research coordinator in a hospital. That was when I realized how much I enjoy working with patients. My second degree was a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My dad was a medic in the Army and he died when I was a child, so medicine was a nice way to honor him as well.

Why family medicine?

Family medicine offered me the flexibility to see the greatest variety of patients. I knew that I didn’t want to treat only children or all women or geriatrics. Family medicine covers all patient groups while giving me the option to pursue a specialty later should I desire to do so. 

Why the UF Student Health Care Center?

Before working for the SHCC, I practiced medicine in rural health for nine years. I enjoyed this population group immensely and was able to help patients who had a wide range of acute and chronic health problems.

Working with the student population has been a nice change from rural health, but has been surprising in some respects.  I had assumed that I would be treating mostly acute care illnesses, such as colds and sinus infections. I quickly discovered within my first couple of months several students with serious chronic health diseases. Finding and managing these more serious diseases surprised both the students and me.

How has your experience in rural health care helped you better care for patients?

Due to my experience in diagnosing and treating chronic health problems in the rural setting, I am very familiar with physical signs that may point to underlying problems such as diabetes. I often order tests and refer my SHCC patients to specialists to fully explore their presenting symptoms. Also, rural health presents itself with opportunities to provide patient education in both medical topics and how to navigate the health care system. Because many students are on their own for the first time, I draw from my experiences in patient education to help them navigate the health care system and understand different medical conditions and treatments.

Ashley Kiaralla, DNP, APRN looking in patient ear.

What’s your favorite part about being a medical provider at the SHCC?

I love the students so much. The patients are so fun and funny, and I am constantly laughing at the jokes that they make. It is a good time here.

What do you want students to know about seeking care here at the SHCC?

A lot of students are unsure when they should see a provider, and I always tell my patients to come anytime they feel like they need to be seen. Many students wait unnecessarily because they’re not sure what to do. We are always here to help them whenever they have a question or they need something. So, there‚Äôs no need to wait.

What do you want parents to know about their children seeking care at the SHCC?

It is highly likely that coming to SHCC is the first time that your child has walked into a medical office without a trusted adult. We know that and take our time with them, explaining everything and educating them about treatment and prevention modalities. Please be confident that your child is well cared for here.  

Do you have a motto or inspirational quote that you tell your patients?

Something that I say to my patients quite often is: Your body is not a punishment.

A lot of patients come to the SHCC and are struggling with something. It could be obesity or an illness, such as asthma. I often talk about how they will have their body for their whole life, and we will work together to determine the best solutions for them to be as comfortable, mobile and confident as possible. I find that many patients appreciate knowing they have a medical advocate who will help them address whatever they are struggling with.