James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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JMU Alumna Reports for Duty

By: Amanda Rivera
Posted: March 10, 2008

PHOTO: Rachel EnglerGrowing up wanting to follow in the footsteps of her military family with a passion for helping people and a love of dance, JMU graduate Rachel Engler is definitely what you would call well-rounded.  While most settle for following one path, this 2005 nursing alumni took the road less travelled and chose all three.  Majoring in nursing, Rachel knew that she would have a lot of options; however, she did not want to pigeonhole herself into the traditional role.  “I wanted more when I left college, I wanted adventure… I just couldn’t see myself going to a civilian hospital and staying there for years and years.  That works great for most, and almost all of my peers in college, but that wasn’t me,” she says.  Applying to the Navy and their Nurse corps after graduation, Rachel found her adventure…and then some.  While serving in the Navy, the JMU graduate decided to simultaneously take on dancing with a fairly well-known group of burgundy and gold.

After passing the RN licensing exam, Rachel attended Navy “boot camp” in Newport, Rhode Island.  With her first assignment at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Rachel faced many challenges which required what she refers to as her “tough nurse face.”  However, she took each one in stride, even later becoming close friends with a particularly difficult patient.  She recalls, “I took a deep breath and bent down to his level next to his bed.  I gave him a slight speech and explained to him VERY firmly that I was his nurse all night long whether he liked it or not and that I was on his side whether he believed it or not.”  Caring for military personnel who had been injured overseas, Rachel was able to see the effects of progressive medical equipment and procedures, including the use of state-of-the-art prosthetics.  “It is encouraging to see my marines, sailors and soldiers come back to me and show off their new limbs!  It is like nothing else I have ever experienced and gets you past the hard times when you lose a patient, or have the ones who will never ever be the same due to severe traumatic brain injuries,” she says.

A former JMU Dukette, Rachel longed for her dancing days.  Receiving permission from her command, she attended tryouts to join the ranks of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders.  She states, “I had made a list of things I wanted to do in life and being on a professional NFL dance team was one of them...I went out on a limb and tried out and it was a fantastic experience!”  Given one of the elite forty spots on the team, Rachel found that her off-duty “hobby” created quite a stir at her day-job.     “As my patients found out, through the grapevine of course, they would be excited to talk about the team and what it was like.  Talking about Sunday games helped keep their minds off the war and their injuries, even just for a little bit, that was worth it,” she says.  While Rachel admits that her busy schedule did prove overwhelming at times, going from night shifts at the hospital to cheering at games the next day, she says, “I just tried to embrace the experience and work it out day by day, week by week.” 

Caring for patients post-operatively, Rachel discovered yet another direction that she hoped to take with nursing.  She says, “Being on that surgical floor handing out pain medications like candy…I was opened up to the opportunities that pain management can have.”  It was here that she was able to collaborate with Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), a field that piqued her interest.  Looking back at this pivotal moment, she recalls, “I have discovered something that will work with my personality – it’s like figuring out a puzzle, what is the best combination to help someone through their pain experience or surgery?”

However, getting everything in order to begin applying to nurse anesthesia graduate programs, Rachel was sent a curveball.  Facing a reality of her position in the Navy, the JMU graduate was put in for primary nomination to the Forward Surgical Resuscitation team going on a nine-month tour to Afghanistan in April.  Shocked at first, Rachel quickly acquiesced saying, “This is what I volunteered for.  This is my duty and I’m proud of that.”  Later after working in the intensive care unit (ICU), performing as charge nurse, battling Cowboys off-duty and disgruntled patients at work, her department head assured her that she was well-suited for her task ahead.  “Having this incredibly broad spectrum of opportunities has been amazing and has truly marked a greater journey for me in the field of nursing,” she says.