Auburn alum running strong, making difference in health care amid pandemic

Published: September 08, 2020
Updated: September 09, 2020
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For Jennifer Mashburn, running is more than just a hobby, it’s a necessary escape.

The 2009 Auburn University alumna works as an interventional radiologic technologist for the WellStar Kennestone Hospital’s Vascular Institute in Marietta, Georgia, logging 10-hour days in high-pressure situations where lives are on the line. Whether it’s performing regular interventional radiology procedures, assisting doctors to repair bleeding blood vessels, conducting diagnostic angiograms to look for blood clots and narrowing of blood vessels or helping save stroke victims who might have potentially fatal clots in the brain, Mashburn lives in a fast-paced world where seconds matter.

That intensity, as well as being part of a team that can save and affect lives, keeps her motivated and driven in a fulfilling career that provides a crucial service.

“A lot of times, there’s instant gratification,” said Mashburn, who is working toward the next level of vascular interventional credential certification. “If you’re on ‘stroke call,’ where you get called in at 2 in the morning, we’ll go in with a doctor and pull blood clots out of people’s brains when they’re having a stroke. So, they come in, can’t speak and really don’t know where they are.

“We get them in, pull the clot out and then, when they’re waking up from anesthesia in the recovery room with us, all of a sudden they’re asking where they are and what’s going on. You see them for a follow-up angiogram a week later, and they’re like, ‘Hey, I’m going home tomorrow.’ If we didn’t do that intervention, they wouldn’t be there.”

Time also plays a big factor in her main outlet—running. An avid runner for more than seven years, Mashburn says she has routinely competed in “more races than I can count” and enjoys the freedom the sport provides.

“It’s definitely a stress relief,” said Mashburn, who has completed dozens of half marathons. “It’s keeping my blood pressure under control and staying healthy. My patient population is usually really sick, so I’m just preventing myself from being one of my patients.

“One of our neurosurgeons said one of the biggest things he notices with our stroke patients is they have untreated, undiagnosed hypertension. Once we do the stroke intervention, we get them on blood pressure meds, and their entire quality of life changes. I have a family history of hypertension, so I’m trying to stay on top of that and prevent some of the issues we have patients coming in for.”

Nothing has been routine about 2020, however, and the sport Mashburn loves has been forced to cancel in-person competitions far and wide. The running world has adapted though, implementing virtual running series that allow participants to track their own runs and upload the results online.

Mashburn was one of more than 13,000 people who competed in the Virtual Brooklyn Half Marathon that was conducted by the New York Road Runners, or NYRR, in May and has participated in half a dozen NYRR events this year. She admits to disliking virtual running events at first, but the concept has been well-received nationally, even garnering Mashburn and other health care workers attention in Runner’s World magazine.

“I used to hate it and would only sign up for virtual races that were charity-based,” said Mashburn, who says she completed 15 half marathons in 2018 alone. “It’s just a way to continue running and having races since my entire schedule starting from March 14 on was canceled.”

Virtual running relies on an honor system among participants, where runners use technology like Garman running watches to monitor their progress and upload information to the organizing bodies’ websites. Mashburn says it has kept her focused on her ultimate goal of running her first marathon, the Virtual TCS New York City Marathon, which she will complete in the Atlanta suburbs on Halloween.

“You’re doing it on your own,” said Mashburn, who also competes in Atlanta Track Club events. “You’re training on your own, recording your own time and doing your own route, but you’re submitting your time. It gives me mile markers in my training, and the events ultimately keep me ready for the marathon. It just keeps me in running condition, and it’s really our only option for races.”

A Georgia native, Mashburn grew up in Virginia and was encouraged to attend Auburn by veterinarians she volunteered for in high school who had graduated from the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She majored in animal science and microbiology, then graduated from West Georgia Tech’s radiologic technology program in 2013 and completed her Master’s in Public Health at Augusta University in 2016.

She loved her time at Auburn, especially enjoying the student experience, food and, of course, football.

“I was there during the Cadillac [Williams] and Ronnie [Brown] era, so it was a good time to be there,” Mashburn said.

After being introduced to running from a friend in Columbus, Georgia, Mashburn took to the sport with the same fervor she approaches her career. She recently completed a 17-mile training run—a new personal distance record—and usually runs five to 10 miles on her training days.

Mashburn runs on the three days of the week she’s not working, mainly because her profession is so physically and mentally taxing.

“Trying to do a 10-hour shift and run is just a little much,” said Mashburn, who also works yoga and strength training into her regimen. “I get my 10,000 steps in at work every day pretty easily.”

The next few weeks will be even more hectic for Mashburn than usual, with her first marathon looming on the horizon and her role as president of the Atlanta Society of Radiologic Technologists requiring extra effort during the pandemic. In true Auburn style, the determined Tiger is poised and ready for the challenges that await her.

“My main physical goal for the rest of the year is to complete my first marathon, and that’s mostly about building a trust in myself and what my body can do,” said Mashburn, who also serves on state and national radiologic technologist boards. “I’m working with my Atlanta Society of Radiologic Technologists board to make sure we can offer the same quality of education to our membership despite restrictions due to COVID. I have a strong team around me, so I’m excited about the challenges and changes.

“This year has changed a lot with both running and how we can operate as professional societies, but we are persevering, and I think many of the changes will be beneficial in both realms.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.