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Nursing soldiers and cheerleading

Rachel Engler ('05) took on the challenges of the U.S. Navy, nursing and the Washington Redskins
By Jeanne Pitsenberger and Hali Chiet ('07)

Update: Proving that it's a small world when you're a Duke, the JMU Web office received this note, Nov. 8, 2010, in response to an article featured on JMU's home page about Major Justin Constantine:
Hello! I am so excited, I couldn't help but e-mail you all. I am the Navy Nurse on the upper right-hand corner of the banner on the [JMU] website right now in my whites. My name is Rachel Engler, class of 2005 School of Nursing, and Major Justin Constantine ('92) was one of my patients! I had NO idea he had gone to my alma mater when I took care of him at the National Naval Medical Center years ago! His wife Dahlia is such a doll, she stood by his side every moment, and he was a delight to have as a patient. Thank you all for making my day! What a small world it is. Sincerely, Lt. Rachel Engler

Nursing career begins

Soon after she graduated in 2005, nursing major Rachel Engler was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy and passed the National Council Licensure exam to become a registered nurse. Her life has been nonstop ever since.

Following a month of "officer boot camp" in Newport, R.I., Engler was stationed at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She completed the three-month internship for new nurses and at her request was then placed on the surgical ward where she cared for wounded service members from Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas assignments. Engler had become the charge nurse on that floor by the time she left to work in the critical care unit.

Lt. Junior Grade O-2 Rachel Engler ('05) deployed to Afghanistan in May 2008 to serve in a Forward Surgical Resuscitation Team.

Lt. Junior Grade 0-2 Rachel engler ('05) deployed to Afghanistan in May 2008 to serve in the Forward Surgical Resuscitation Team.

A Washington Redskins Cheerleader

Not that she's not challenged enough in her military nursing assignments, Engler auditioned for and was accepted as a Washington Redskins Cheerleader in April 2006 and received the Navy's approval. Engler now says she does not know how she managed active duty status and the huge time commitment being a cheerleader requires. She believes that it was worth it, and it made her patients just a bit proud of her, too. She was with the team for the 2006-07 season but declined another year of cheerleading because she was working even more in the ICU with a call schedule added to her normal hours.

The Redskins cheerleader audition process lasted about a week and included an interview, dance and kickline routines and a mock photo shoot. The final round of the process involved performing in front of a crowd. At this point, 60 girls remained and in the end, only 40 were given a spot on the squad. Although Engler enjoyed the "amazing feeling you get on game day when you're out on the field," balancing both jobs came with its stresses.

Nursing and cheerleading--a tough balancing act

"The most challenging part was finding time to sleep," she says. "There would be times that we were practicing at the studio until almost midnight, and then I'd have to get up the next morning to go to the gym and be at work by 6 a.m." But, Engler also says she was glad that her job as a cheerleader gave patients something to talk about other than the war. "I would come in to work, and one of the nurses would say, 'Hey! My patient really wants to meet you!'"

The ICU where Engler works is a cardiac/neuro/respiratory ICU that continues to get patients with military injuries from overseas. She gives a lot of credit to the Navy for the "tons of training" and certifications she has attained along with taking courses in combat casualties. Engler says her path has made her "the best possible nurse I can be at this point in my career, and I am ready for more."

Madison Experience provided lessons in prioritization

She also credits her JMU experience for helping prepare her for the future, both in her career as a nurse and a cheerleader. "JMU taught me immensely about prioritization," she says. She also points out that the nursing program did "a phenomenal job of preparing students for their future. I'm able to use research-based practice that I did in the program and apply it to my job."

While at JMU, Engler was involved with the Nursing Student Association, which influenced her to attend conferences to learn more about her trade. In addition to her involvement with the NSA, Engler was a proud member of the Dukettes. Having danced since the age of three, Engler was experienced in everything from ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop to Irish dancing, and competed throughout her childhood.

Rachel Engler ('05), center, and her parents, U.S. Navy commanders Brian and Maxine Engler

Rachel, center, and her parents, U.S. Navy commanders Brian and Maxine Engle

Deploying to Afghanistan

Lt. Junior Grade O-2 Engler has called on her Madison Experience, as well as her Navy training, for her current role. Before deploying to Afghanistan in May 2008, she spent about a month training at Fort Jackson, S.C., in April, and then flew to Kuwait for more training. She will work in Afghanistan through December. Her deployment will be in support of the 3,200 Marines being sent there throughout the summer.

Engler will be part of the Forward Surgical Resuscitation Team. Before shipping out, she was busy completing all the paperwork, health screenings, extra certifications and training -- and spending as much time as possible with her family and friends.

Engler's father was deployed during Vietnam, and her mother was deployed during Desert Storm. Both served the U.S. Navy for 20 years before retiring. Engler's parents have been a tremendous help to her, she says.

Setting goals and taking it day by day

Engler's goal to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist means at least a year of critical-care experience to get under her belt as required by the advanced practice program. She plans to apply to the program while she is serving in Afghanistan. She will probably have to take the GRE on paper and says that alone is a stress, but she is "trying to take everything day by day."

She adds, "I'm proud to be an alumna of such a great university. I just love JMU. The university accepts people for being well-rounded, and that's the person I like to be and that's the person I continue to be."