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Back-to-school is a time of year that has assumed a season in its own rite.  Sandwiched between summer vacation and the official start of fall later this month, a wave of nostalgia is sure to be resonating as fleets of yellow buses are back in mainstream traffic.  Social media outlets have hosted the annual surge in snapshots of students adorning backpacks and displaying homespun signs to mark the occasion of the coming school year.  This week I caught up with Tanya Ingvaldson, a dear friend and nurse colleague who proudly displayed her chalkboard proclaiming her first day of graduate school as she embarks upon her Master of Arts in Holistic Health Studies degree.

Registered Nurse, Tanya Ingvaldson embarks upon a journey to a graduate degree!
Registered Nurse, Tanya Ingvaldson embarks upon a journey to a graduate degree!

Tanya has let me in on some of the most profound moments of her internal and external evaluation of pursuing this advanced degree at this time in her life.  I'm humbled to feature her story this week as she faces a most personal phase of her understanding of health and healing in her role as primary caretaker for her mother, who is awaiting a new heart.  In the commentary following Tanya's essay for admission to her MA program, she lets us inside her pause to question whether this is the best time or the worst time to move forward with thoughtfully laid plans to expand her personal and professional horizons with a degree in holistic studies.

Deep thanks to Tanya for sharing the following pieces: her entrance essay for graduate school and her raw and honest assessment of taking the plunge in the weeks leading up to her successful start of graduate school, last week.  Tanya, here's to your successful finish as you move toward sticking the landing on this next leg of your nursing and personal journey.

A Personal Essay for St. Kate's MA in Holistic Studies by Tanya Ingvaldson

"My interest in Holistic Nursing started quite accidentally. Over the last two years I have been seeking ways in which to lead a healthier lifestyle and how to implement a healthier way of life into my family’s routine. During this time I was seeking new ways to care for myself and my family, essential oils took over my workplace. After a great deal of reading and talking to friends who were well versed in the many uses of oils, I took the leap and watched the essential oils work right before my eyes. It was in that moment of watching the oils work for my daughter that I became a believer in the potential and the power of essential oils and alternative modalities in care.

This revelation prompted me to start looking deeper into all of the alternative ways in which I could care for myself and I was exposed to a world in which I had no prior knowledge and a significant amount of skepticism. Our daughter suffers from Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.  During the same time that I was learning more about alternative modalities, she suffered a significant flare. We sought out alternative approaches to compliment her medication regimen.  It was my hope we could find an alternative that would offer a more immediate improvement while we waited for the systemic medications to take hold.  We began taking her to a chiropractor and saw a tremendous improvement with her level of pain, her mobility, and her overall wellness. The dramatic change I saw within her only furthered my belief and curiosity!

During this same time of discovery and interest, I have found myself at a professional crossroads. The realization and acknowledgement of my situation has given me pause and has both forced me and empowered me to examine what I have a passion for, and what I want to spend the second half of my career doing.  As I began to learn more about alternative modalities, I felt as though an entire new world of possibilities had opened up that I had never before considered.

As an RN, I have a strong belief in the validity and necessity of modern medicine. That being said, I also believe that there is a strong body of knowledge that tells us that traditional approaches to health and healing have validity.  I know there is a way in which we can reach a balance an acceptance of alternative modalities, which at one time, were mainstream modalities to help our patients, and ourselves to be healthier, happier and more enriched.  This new personal realization has led me to ask more questions about the place that Holistic Nursing can fit into my life and my practice. Within myself I see and feel that the more information I gather, I am left with more questions and more excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead for both my future and the future of the nursing profession.

My nursing career began in a Level III NICU. I have been a NICU RN for 15 years. In the last three years, I have also had the opportunity to work with new moms as a postpartum nurse, giving me an entirely new view of nursing care.  As my journey towards Holistic Nursing has progressed, I have been reminded of a pivotal day I experienced as a new nurse. As a new graduate nurse, so many days were spent learning from individuals from various care areas. Although we met with many people, I continue to come back to the day we spent with the Occupational Therapist. Our day was spent learning about the developmental care of the tiniest of patients. What has so strongly remained with me over all of my years of practice is the power of touch. We were taught on that day, and during many other days to come that our tiny patients required a light touch. We were taught to be ever mindful of the weight and strength of our hand. We were taught to be mindful that these tiny patients cannot talk and we must watch and be aware, and as your are laying your hands upon them to realize how heavy they were and then readjust. It has always been important to me to be careful, mindful and aware of my touch.  As I reflect on Holistic Nursing and what that path might look for me in the months and years to come, I continue to be drawn to Healing Touch and all of the possibilities it holds.

While the idea of graduate school is daunting, I feel that I am ready for the challenge. As I approach this process, it has helped me to know that I can pursue the Certificate program, lessening the weight of my decision to apply for school. Furthermore, while participating in the Enhancing Practice Through Holistic Nursing class this spring I met with two women who are currently in the Holistic Studies program and are attending part time. This further propelled me to follow this path and reassured me this is a feasible and positive decision for me at this time in my life. Despite the fact that I have external stressors in my life, I know that I can work at my own pace. I know there is no deadline I must meet, because when all is said and done, I am doing this for myself. What I find appealing and reassuring is while I hope that this can lead me onto a a new career path, I also know that what I will be learning will be beneficial to me, as a person to care for myself as a whole, for the rest of my lifetime."

Behind the polished essay...there are raw emotions.  Tanya shared the following excerpt about two weeks before class started.  I include it here with her permission to highlight the range of hues in certainty when taking the leap to pursue an advanced degree.

"The elation I felt after sending off my essay and having my interview for grad school quickly fell away. I was excited for a few weeks. Onward to new adventures! Tally ho! I am on my way! But after the excitement fell away and I didn't have an answer to, "So, what are you going to DO with your degree?" Why must SO MANY people ask this question? The luster wore off. Following the loss of excitement, full-fledged indifference took hold of me. What WILL I do with this degree? Why am I spending so much money on this…right now? Insanity!
My decidedness about this program promising to provide a lens of holistic reasoning that could be applied in any future role I serve…suddenly felt empty and flimsy. I was nearing my grad school orientation day. It had been on the calendar for two months. It was placed there with such anticipation, excitement, and promise. Now it sat looming as another thing to do. Orientation was another task to complete before I was able to move along to the next thing on the to-do list. In the two to three weeks preceding orientation, I had decided that I would defer my enrollment by a year. I had misgivings, worries. What if the other program at the other university was a better fit for what I envisioned? What if this truly was the worst time EVER to launch into such a big endeavor? Instead of the excitement, wonder and vision of what lie ahead, I was really feeling like this was a chore, and a bad one at that.
In the week preceding orientation, things were crazy at home, further propelling me to decide this was the worst decision ever, capped off with my 12 year old declaring with indignation the night before orientation, "WHAT? You are going back to school? You are NEVER home already!" Her assertion confirmed all of my doubts. I explained that I was going to go to orientation and we would decide after that. So, I set out to pack myself up, listen to what the nice people had to say, and then find the necessary people to defer my enrollment.
On the morning of orientation, unbeknownst to me, seemingly EVERY FREEWAY in Minneapolis had a detour, I was in fact CERTAIN that God was confirming my thoughts. This was NOT the time to go back to school. I arrived on campus late. You don't know me, but I am never late. Never. Being late just felt like another sign of this not being the right time to embark upon another adventure in an already-full life and schedule.
It was within moments of sitting down that I felt the familiar comfort of being "back to school". I was surrounded by like-minded women, (albeit younger women), and a few men. I spent two hours listening to volumes of information, offerings of the University and the amazing potential that was ahead of me. Halfway through the day we split off with our cohort groups to hear about our specific programs.
Those 2.5 hours were amazing. From the beautiful space in which we met, to the incredible energy generated by those of us who gathered together. The panel of professors shared about themselves, the program, and what to expect in the years to come. We all introduced ourselves and I was astounded by the variety of professions represented in this small space! I was surprised to learn there were only 3 RNs in this group of 22. The energy, excitement, and wonder were palpable. As we all talked and listened -- it was most reassuring to learn that not many of those around me had an answer to, "So, what are you going to do with this degree?" Even those on the student panel had no idea what they were going to do. All felt firm the path would open before them when the time was right. Their unwavering confidence and positivity about the path ahead made me more excited and confident than ever. This was the path for me! Right now. I knew after spending the time in that space, and in that company, that I was setting off on a course I couldn't quite see...but I knew it was right for me."

Tanya Ingvaldson is a NICU nurse, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and a graduate student.  Go, Tanya!  -TheRN