August 26, 2019

Systems and Stethoscopes

Liz Fehrenbach ’05 describes how her work in ENVS turned her on to a nursing degree.

My ENVS thesis in 2005 was a sustainability audit of Lewis and Clark’s campus, and as I completed it, I grew increasingly interested in the sustainability of human systems— considering questions like inequality, autonomy, and other topics I had never originally considered under the heading of “sustainability.”

After graduating, I signed up for an AmeriCorps service year, and found myself working in a public housing project in North Portland, helping organize community members to plan and build a community garden. It ended up being the perfect placement to think more about sustainable human systems, since poverty, racism, and environmental degradation all impacted the lives of the people I worked with. I realized, though, that I needed and wanted more concrete tools in my toolbelt in order to impact these systems, and started thinking about nursing— something that had never, ever been on my radar before! But becoming a nurse felt like—and has been—the most amazing outgrowth of my interest in the environment and human health, and my passion for systems thinking and change-making.

After slogging through nursing school, the last ten years have been an incredible journey of learning and growing as a community health nurse. I’ve mostly focused on homeless healthcare, HIV/AIDS, and harm reduction. I love that I get to work directly with individuals, while having plenty of opportunities for big picture thinking. Right now I am the Program Director at a small respite and hospice home for formerly homeless patients with HIV in Washington, DC. I would LOVE to talk with any current or former ENVS students who maybe, just maybe, have had the thought “What about nursing?”