Her Life's Purpose: Online RN to BSN Graduate Finds Hope and Meaning in Genuine Nurse-Patient Relationships
By Katie Willems on 07/16/2018
Navigating the winding road to becoming a nurse
Nursing is nothing new for Mary Soligny, graduate of the Rasmussen College Online RN to BSN program. She first entered the field when she became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at the early age of 16. From the beginning, Soligny has always had a passion and a talent for interacting with people. Her many interests over the years, from nursing to architecture to nutrition, have lead her in several directions, but she never found herself completing a degree.
Time passed and, as she says, life happened—Soligny got married and had five children, but she still didn’t have her degree. While raising her children, she started her own personal training business and found an enthusiasm for competing in natural body-building competitions. Before long, the family bought a large horse ranch on which they built their dream home. After some time, the couple separated and a new path was paved for Soligny as she suddenly became a single mother of five while managing a farm of 90 horses.
“For most of my adult life, I felt ‘less than’ in some way, because I never finished my degree. I worked really hard, making many sacrifices in order to keep the farm and my kids running. Finally, after 15 years, when my kids were a bit older, I decided to pursue my goals of becoming a nurse,” says Soligny. She earned her prerequisites at a local community college before being accepted into a registered nursing (RN) program. With her schedule already full, it was a true balancing act, but she found a rhythm and completed the program.
Upon graduating, Soligny worked at a pediatric home healthcare facility for a short time before her focus and desire shifted to again advancing her career—this time, wanting to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN). A friend at her local gym recommended she explore the Rasmussen College RN to BSN Entrance Option, and after some research, Soligny learned the program was accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and could be completed entirely online. “It seemed affordable, and I liked the concept of not having to go sit back on a campus because I have a very busy life, and the online program was appealing to me,” says Soligny.
She took the leap and enrolled in the program. “In an online education, you don’t have that face-to-face interaction, and you don’t have your questions immediately answered like you would if you raised your hand in a lecture. You [the student] have to be the one to reach out,” she explains. “While some might skim through an online education and barely make it by, there’s very good rigor if you’re an involved student and a student that really wants to learn. Instructor responsiveness made it a positive learning experience for me,” she adds.
Her hectic lifestyle and demanding schedule were not going to prevent her from earning her degree; she stayed organized by scheduling tasks down to the 10-minute time slot and writing to-do lists every night. “That’s how I held myself accountable, and I motivated myself by checking those things off my list. I was okay with sacrificing things like sleep and a social life and workouts. I had a bigger goal, and I knew it would be worth it,” says Soligny. Her determination and shining spirit helped her excel in the program, and she graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in December 2017.
Finding her home in the Burn Unit
Earning her BSN was the gateway to Soligny finding her purpose and becoming a burn nurse at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but her ties to the burn unit lie much, much deeper. Along Soligny’s path, Jake LaFerriere, a firefighter for the city of Minneapolis at the time and a close friend of 15 years, was burned terribly while fighting a house fire, leaving him with life-threatening injuries. His burns were down to the bones in some areas, and knowing he would never be able to fight fires again left him feeling lost and devastated. At the same time, two young boys down the hospital hall were recovering from severe burns from a bonfire. The boys’ courage and strength while enduring numerous surgeries and unrelenting pain gave LaFerriere a reason to continue to fight for his life. As he recovered, he came to realize fire victims and their families are often displaced and have very few resources available to help them back on their feet. This realization led him to start Firefighters for Healing, a nonprofit organization with the mission of supporting children and burn survivors in ways insurance companies and hospitals cannot. Soligny’s friendship with LaFerriere encouraged her to volunteer at many Firefighters for Healing events—from creating gift baskets for donors and donating silent auction packages to raising funds and volunteering to be a camp counselor at Camp Red, which is a camp for young burn survivors.
Through witnessing her friend’s tragedy and shadowing at the hospital, Soligny was introduced to the burn unit and knew she was meant to be a caretaker for burn victims and their families. “I don’t necessarily believe in a calling, but this is as close to what I would say a calling is. I really felt like this was my life’s direction,” she shares. The recovery period for significant burns can last weeks and months and involve numerous surgeries and extensive hospital stays, and Soligny sees the need for developing genuine, meaningful relationships with her short- and long-term patients. “You’re with these patients at their very, very worst, and you can support and help them in a very different way than others can,” she says. Her ever-present sense of empathy for others shows in the way she cares for patients. From Soligny’s perspective, those at the hospital are potentially at one of the lowest places of their lives in regards to health, and the experiences of burn patients are often scary and cause a great deal of pain. Knowing she doesn’t have the power to mask all of the pain and sorrow, she pours her energy into connecting with patients on a personal, human level. Soligny’s unique approach to patient care has already made a positive impact on the lives she has touched. “I make a point of pausing during every procedure, to look my patient in the eyes and let them know, ‘I’m here for you, and you’re doing a great job.’ That’s my whole goal; if I can connect with the patient in a real way for just one moment, then it can help. And I’ve already had patients thank me for that,” she explains.
While she’s admitted there is still more to learn, Soligny remains humbled by her profession and grateful to be able to care for vulnerable patients each and every day. “That’s part of my motivation: to be their little rock that they can stand on for that minute when they need it most,” she shares.
How has the nursing field impacted your life? Share your story with us on the Rasmussen College – School of Nursing Facebook page: facebook.com/rasmussennursingschool. To learn more about the Rasmussen College Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) Entrance Option, please visit: rasmussen.edu/degrees/nursing/rn-bsn.
To get involved with Firefighters for Healing and help those in need, visit: firefightersforhealing.org/donate.