To complete the three-year Bachelor of Nursing, Ashleigh moved to a new town, endured financial stress, and the task of meeting new people. But little did Ashleigh know that training to be a nurse would become her greatest source of strength.
Ashleigh was only two weeks into her third year of study at NMIT when she received news that her brother Andrew was being flown to Dunedin Hospital.
"He was travelling through the Cromwell Gorge with friends -- they were drinking -- he was in the back of the van and thought it would be a fun idea to hang out the window. He slipped and fell on his head."
It was two am when Ashleigh found out. She'd just finished work at a Nelson nightclub and the few people she knew in Nelson were fast asleep.
"I felt the most alone I've ever felt in my life," she recalls. "I really had no one I could turn to at that time."
Ashleigh flew to Dunedin immediately after finding out the extent of her brother’s injuries.
"I knew how bad it was from doing my nursing. [I knew] all the numbers. I’d had experience with an intracranial monitor so I was always doing those numbers."
During placement, Ashleigh had been in a medical unit and had dealt with some complex situations, but being on the opposite side of the situation was a new experience entirely.
"Even though the numbers were saying bad things I was just trying to remain positive."
Her brother was in ICU for six days before the family turned off life support. There was just no sign of recovery. He was 25.
Just two months after her brother’s accident, Ashleigh and her family received a call to say her grandfather had been in an accident. He'd suffered a left side head injury just like her brother. Sadly his life support was turned off the following day.
Returning to Dunedin ICU so soon, and seeing the same doctors and nurses, was one of the most surreal moments of Ashleigh's life.
"It was just incomprehensible at that point. I was just like, 'Why?'"
With three, dear family members gone including a grandmother who passed away in Ashleigh's first year, and an unwell step-grandmother whom Ashleigh drove to chemo appointments, her future as a nurse was never more clear.
"It has influenced my nursing in a positive way. I'm aware of things now that I wouldn't have been aware of had I not been through situations like these.
"Nurses are amazing and I'm not just saying that because I'm a nurse. Having had such close contact with nurses with my brother and my grandfather, they're just incredible. They have to deal with that kind of stuff everyday and they still manage to make a difference in people's lives."
Ashleigh postponed study and remained in Clyde for the rest of the year to support her family but returned to Nelson in 2016 to complete her final year.
"It was a crazy experience. All new people, my brother's first year anniversary, and having these people not know my story. It was such a weird situation. I'd had so much support from the group of girls I'd studied with [in 2015]. They'd all finished their third year and had gotten grad jobs!"
NMIT held her course fees until she was ready to return.
"I rave about NMIT to people. I love it. The support I have had throughout has been remarkable. I had Chris Dunn ring me everyday my brother was in hospital just to see how I was going and how he was going. It was that type of support that you just wouldn't get elsewhere."
In June this year Ashleigh applied to Dunstan Hospital via the Nurse Entry to Practice Programme. After a month of waiting, she summoned the courage and phoned the administrator - a decision that led first to an interview and eventually the news Ashleigh had hoped for.
"I didn't think I'd be able to get a job down here," she says, shaking her head. "They'd never taken someone who hadn't done a placement at Dunstan before. I am the first!"
She has just finished state finals and will graduate this December with her fiancé and seven members of her family by her side.
Despite her loss, the challenges of study and work, personally suffering a broken nose while on placement and then a mountain biking accident earlier this year, Ashleigh is at her most positive.
"I went from having the worst year last year to having some really cool things happen this year. The little things that used to get me down don't anymore at all. There's so much good in life...you really need to look at those positives."