Each #WomenWhoLead feature will be showcased on a wall mural in South End Charlotte. If you know a woman leader who you want to feature on the wall, please click the button to nominate her.
When Devin Allen’s grandmother fell into a coma, doctors offered a grim prognosis: She would never wake up. But the hospital’s nurses had hope.
“They were a positive light,” says Allen. “They told us, even though she wasn’t interacting with us, that we could talk to her and play her favorite gospel music. They gave us something to hold onto during a very difficult time.”
When her grandmother did wake up, Allen decided that she would provide families with that same glimmer of hope. She would become a nurse.
Today, as an RN at Atrium Health in Charlotte, Allen’s goal is to help patients be partners in their care, not just participants. As such, she offers patients alternatives to prescription drugs and crafts holistic health products through her business, Soul Food Healing Company.
We sat down with Allen to hear more about her approach to wellness.
What’s the difference between traditional and holistic medicine? How did you learn about alternative medicine?
Traditional medicine is what we’re all used to seeing: prescription medications, over the counter ointments, injections, and so on. Holistic medicine is in a realm of its own. Holistic medicine uses acupuncture, healing herbs, teas and syrups, to name a few, that have been proven to help treat common ailments, such as anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and arthritis pain.
Let’s dig a little deeper here: What initially lit the fuse and sparked your passion for holistic medicine?
My niece recently started attending daycare and she was bringing tons of germs home. Well, guess who was catching all of her colds. During this time, my niece would be fine, running around, full of energy, and there I was, completely debilitated in bed, not feeling well at all. So, like most people, I went to my doctor to get a prescription. Often, I would finish the prescription, but I would still be feeling terrible, and in some cases I would actually feel worse than I felt before I took the medication.
After catching several of these colds from my neice, I knew I needed to find an alternative — something I could take that actually made me feel better. Something natural, free of preservatives, dyes, side effects, and chemicals. This was a pivotal moment for me, I began researching and testing out my own recipes. I can recall a specific time when I was sick for two weeks. When I took a dose of the elderberry syrup and turmeric tea I made, I began to feel much better just a few hours after.
What services do you provide through Soul Food Healing Company?
A customer might come to me and say, “Hey, I’ve been struggling to sleep at night. Do you have anything natural that will help?” I might have a tea blend or a syrup that I’ve crafted. Additionally, I have often made recipes that are unique to what my clients are struggling with.
Of course, in addition to being a business owner, you are a nurse. How does owning a holistic healing company affect your ability to provide patient care?
Having an understanding of holistic medicine has made me a stronger nurse. Now, my mindset has been expanded in terms of options for treating various conditions. Many people have been taking prescription medications for years and have yet to see improvements in their health. There are so many people who are excited to try something different and who often see rapid improvements when they switch to holistic remedies.
Healing your body through natural foods and holistic medicine has been around for a very long time, but it’s not my job to convince anyone to switch to this lifestyle. My goal is to provide an alternative option for those who are interested, and in most cases, for those who are simply sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
What unexpected challenges have you faced, both as a registered nurse and as a business owner?
As a nurse, there were many struggles we all had to face associated with the pandemic. We had to learn how to care for patients with a virus that we hadn’t seen before, all while dealing with the constant changes in hospital policies and procedures. Taking time to decompress during the pandemic has certainly been one the biggest challenges.
As a business owner, my main challenge is meeting the demand — ensuring the products get to those who need them as soon as possible. It’s also important to me to network with other people in the natural health community.
You have been a registered nurse for seven years now. How do you continue to grow and evolve as a practitioner?
I have been intentional about venturing out and exploring a wide range of areas of nursing. Upon graduating, I worked in critical care. This was a significant challenge, but I gained a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Working in critical care also gave me the confidence I needed to start travel nursing. When working in this field, it is critical to be confident in who you are as a nurse. The process is extremely fast paced — often you’re in a new city, state, and sometimes a new country. Travel nurses often have only one day of orientation before they are out on their own, compared to the 1-3 months most new hires receive. I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to California for a while, during this experience many of my patients were Spanish speaking only. This was very challenging, but it made me a better nurse. Now, I’m able to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients more efficiently. I am currently pursuing my Master’s in Family Nurse Practitioner, while also being involved with committees that work to identify opportunities for improvement in the nursing field. These committees help us progress forward as a profession.
Can you talk more about your committee work? What problems are you trying to solve?
Far too often in nursing we have people making decisions for us, even though they don’t always understand the different challenges that we experience. My goal is to help bridge that gap.
Do you have any other passion projects?
There are many communities in Charlotte that do not have access to fresh produce. These communities are considered food deserts. My goal is to help eliminate food deserts, by providing access to fresh foods and promote improvement in health quality. I have cultivated a community garden that is a source of fresh produce for underserved communities who are living within these communities.
That’s such important work. How did food access become an interest of yours?
Unfortunately, ailments like hypertension and high cholesterol, to name a few, plague the African-American community as well as some other underserved communities. Though these diseases can be hereditary, often disease prevalence is about access — or lack thereof — to healthy foods.
In nursing school, we had an assignment where we had to spend a day in the life of someone who lives in food deserts, and the journey they must embark on to obtain healthy, fresh foods. Through this process, I was able to gain a better understanding of the struggles of these communities. As a group, we took city buses, evaluated the costs, and so on. This experience sparked something in me. I started to think: How do we make it easier for people to access healthy food? How do we eliminate or reduce some of these common ailments that occur disportionately in these communities?
When caring for patients in the hospital, I see patients on multiple medications who have no knowledge of what their medications are for.
My dad, for instance, was a newly diagnosed diabetic, I remember him mentioning to me that nobody discussed the importance of changing his diet and exercise, even though this is one of the most therapeutic steps you can take when managing diabetes. The vital importance of eye exams 1-2 times a year and checking his feet daily for wounds, was also not taught to him.
Do you think community involvement allows you to be the best practitioner possible?
Absolutely, connection to the community is one of the most important things to me. It keeps my heart centered and reminds me of why I was called to do this work. It keeps us human. As nurses, if we feel disconnected, a patient can become just a number. Most will stop going the extra mile. It is so important in healthcare to provide people with options and allow them to be involved in their care. Asking people questions such as – “What’s working well for you?”, “What are your goals?”, and “How do you feel about your current treatment regime?.” It is my desire to change the healthcare narrative and help people become actively involved in their own care and treatment plans.
What are your goals moving forward?
I’m currently studying to become a nurse practitioner. My goal is to open my own practice after gaining experience upon graduation. Through this practice, I plan to integrate the products that I’ve created within my business. This would be a natural option for patients who are struggling with various medical conditions while providing an alternative to taking prescription medications.