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Dreams fulfilled for UW-Eau Claire nursing graduate

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: Jessica Reindahl balanced her final semester in UW-Eau Claire's nursing program this fall with caring for her three children during a pandemic.

Jessica Reindahl had big dreams growing up as an only child in a patriotic military family — she wanted to fly, serve her country and, finally, help people.

“I wanted to fly because I just loved how surreal it was, and the anticipation of getting off-deck and in the air is very exciting,” Reindahl says. “I wanted to serve my country because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than all of us. I wanted to be one of the reasons why our country has good in it.”

Reindahl’s first two dreams came true during a nine-year stint in the U.S. Navy and the final goal will be fulfilled this month when she graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a nursing degree. Reindahl plans to work for two years in critical-care nursing before entering graduate school to become a nurse anesthetist.

“I want to give back; I want to help people because I am able to,” Reindahl says. “I love learning and I love learning about science, and if that can save a life, or make the world better, then I want to help.”

Dr. Megan Lagunas, assistant professor and director of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences’ Clinical Learning Center, calls Reindahl “extremely dedicated and engaged” and someone who will be an asset to the nursing profession.

“Jessica's ‘different background’ allows her to bring her own perspective to nursing school which positively challenges everyone in those learning environments to think beyond their own viewpoint,” Lagunas says. “Nurses need to be as diverse as their patients.”

Jane Hauger, a clinical instructor in UW-Eau Claire’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, has no doubts her student will make her mark on the world.

“Jess is an exceptional student, one of the strongest students I have had the pleasure to teach,” says Hauger, who has taught at UW-Eau Claire for 24 years. “She is disciplined as a result of her military experiences. She’ll be a wonderful nurse. She’ll do extremely well.”

Growing up Jessica Monsebroten — her diploma will contain her maiden name though she married this summer and now goes by Reindahl — with an active-duty father in the U.S. Navy, Reindahl moved frequently like many military families, living in Iceland, Maryland, Louisiana and Florida. She spent her high school years in central Florida.

Reindahl enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2007 and was a flight engineer on naval aircraft, participating in multiple deployments and shorter detachments. During flights, she was responsible for flight safety, operating engines and aircraft systems, and troubleshooting and correcting malfunctions in flight.

“I kept the plane ready to fly both on the ground and in the air,” Reindahl says.

While deployed in the Middle East, Reindahl met a nurse who flew in the Navy, and was inspired to pursue a post-military career in nursing.

“I saw how invested and present they were with the care of their patients versus the doctors and it completely inspired me,” Reindahl says. “From that day, I knew I wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to care for those who needed help and be there for people who had no one.”

Reindahl met her future husband, Thomas Reindahl, in the military, and when she left active duty in 2016, they moved back to his hometown of Clear Lake. Reindahl enrolled at UW-Eau Claire and made the 140-mile roundtrip daily commute to complete her nursing degree over the next four years.

Reindahl’s final year of college included her nursing clinicals, her wedding and the birth of the couple’s third child. And, of course, COVID 19. The pandemic closed Reindahl’s 9-year-old’s school and her 3-year-old’s day care for a while, so she was teaching two children at home, studying and attending classes while pregnant.

“I was so worried about falling behind and I refused to put myself in a position where I needed to reach out to my instructors to ask for help that I even went to class while in labor,” Reindahl says. “I went into labor on a Friday, which happened to be the day that three of my five classes met, and I was there participating while waiting to meet my baby.”

Reindahl says her instructors supported her and made adjustments to coursework and clinicals to accommodate her.

Hauger, her clinical instructor, worked with Reindahl after her child was born to ensure her student could complete her clinicals virtually and online. The extenuating circumstances caused by COVID-19 made for some creative assignments, Hauger says, but Reindahl was up to the task.

“She’s very committed, very focused,” Hauger says. “I’ve been teaching long enough that, although I only saw her three days in clinical, you can tell when students are strong. I never doubted her. She’s very empathetic, very understanding, very engaged.

“She was very flexible through all this. She was willing to do anything we put in front of her and everything she did, she did exceptionally well.”

Completing her rigorous coursework while caring for her children made for an interesting final semester for Reindahl.

“This being my third child, I can say that having a newborn is not really the challenge,” Reindahl says. “It is having a 3-year-old who wants to do everything his older brother wants to do, while holding his new baby sister, while trying to say hello to all my classmates while we are in virtual classes, and never sitting still or being quiet and always being hungry. The real challenge was the true test of being a multitasking mom.”

Lagunas says Reindahl effectively juggled her responsibilities during her final semester and believes the experiences will be an asset, rather than a hindrance, as she begins her nursing career.

“The nursing profession is lucky to have her,” Lagunas says.