Non-traditional student Tawnya Isaacson was a featured guest for MCN’s new podcast, MCN On Air. She sat down with podcast host, Noah Schlosser, on October 5, 2021, and shared her perspective as a student who returned to school after raising her family. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation, highlighting her accomplishments, including an increased sense of confidence as a nursing professional. We invite you to listen to the fourth episode of MCN On Air in its entirety.

Full Episode

Transcript Excerpt

Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself? Who are you, why you decided to be a nurse, that type of thing. 

OK. Well, first off, I am Tawyna. I am a senior here at Mennonite College of Nursing. I am a mother of two grown children, and I have two grandchildren. There came a point in my life where my children were grown, and I decided it was time to go back and pursue a career that I wanted to do. Throughout my experiences in childhood, and also in adulthood, I’ve watched my brother struggle with diabetes, and I was never able to help him in any way. I didn’t really have the know-how to help. And then, later on in life, a husband had open-heart surgery, and I nursed him back to health. And through all his appointments and everything, I found I had an affinity for talking with the doctors and being able to explain things to everybody in words that they understood.

So, you come from a little bit of a different background than maybe the typical student might be. Tell us a little bit about that. 

“Being a first-gen student definitely gives me a sense of honor and responsibility.”

I am definitely a non-traditional, first-generation college student. I was out of school for 25 years before I ever stepped foot on a college campus. And I’m also a transfer student, so I got all my gen eds at the local community college, and then came over here, and it was the best step I ever could have made, ‘cause I absolutely love it, and I think I’m thriving. (Laugh) Being a first-gen student definitely gives me a sense of honor and responsibility. My kids have not been to college, but I’m an inspiration for them. My son now can’t wait until I get out, so he can kind of rely on me a little bit if he needs help when he’s on his college journey.  

Right, yeah, you’ll have that experience. And it’s definitely inspirational, especially for people who might be listening who are maybe in your position, thinking about going to MCN, or thinking about going to nursing school after they’ve already finished up a college degree, or maybe they haven’t had a college degree, or whatever the scenario might be. So, do you have any words of inspiration, maybe, for them? 

It is never too late to step back in and follow your dreams, because we get caught up in spending our lives doing for everybody else. There has to be a point in time where you do for yourself. So, if you have a dream, don’t let anybody tell you that it’s ever too late. 

Can you tell me a little bit about your prelicensure experience, how that’s been for you so far? Now that you’re a senior, looking back. 

I was over watching some juniors today get practice for their skills checks, and I’m like, “Oh, that was so fun! I remember that!” It’s a great experience. You build camaraderie with your classmates. You learn a lot, and sometimes you feel like you’re not learning a lot, you’re like, “Oh my God, I can’t do this.” You know, impostor syndrome. But then, now I see myself now in senior year, and I’m like, “Wow, I’m really doing this. This is awesome.” (Laugh) 

Yeah! And you’re also involved in the CAUSE program, Change Agents for the Underserved: Service Education. Would you tell me a little bit about how that’s been for you? 

CAUSE has been excellent. It gives me another avenue of opportunity to explore when I get out of school. We get to work in the primary care setting, and so, ambulatory, working with patients, and in our clinical sites, we get to build rapport with patients that we may see throughout our whole two years there. It’s really a great program that really emphasizes a care team structure. So, you get continuity of care. Like, helping them with their mental health, helping them with their disease processes and everything, and just really being able to coordinate that care and be there for an underserved population. 

How do you think that program has shaped you over the past few years? 

It has really opened up my eyes to what goes on. You know, being a patient in a setting, you’re like, “OK, I’m focused on me.” But you get to see what the nurses go through, what the whole office staff goes through, to be able to provide you with an excellent level of service. It’s just really amazing what goes on behind the scenes, and how everybody advocates for you as a patient. 

In the CAUSE program, you have to have an extra 8-hour primary care workshop, as well as you have to complete 150 hours in an assigned clinic partner site. So, would you recommend the CAUSE program for future students? 

Oh, absolutely. You’re getting to experience the primary care setting. You actually get to learn skills that the regular student population does not get to learn. Like, we got to practice phlebotomy and stuff like that, which isn’t part of our curriculum here. 


So, we get to do a lot more. And we get a lot more sim practice, too, which I think is really critical to developing your skills as a nurse. 

Yeah. Can you give me an example of some simulation that would be extra in the CAUSE program? 

OK, each semester when we go for our extra 8-hour training for whatever class we’re associated with, we get to have live actors come in and play patients, and we get to play the role just like we’re in the doctor’s office treating these patients and providing that patient care to them. And then, in the end, they actually give you feedback. So, coming from a real person, letting you know how you did, and if there’s anything they thought you could do better, so you’d leave with that feedback right away. And then, most recently, we got to do a mass casualty incident and learn how to triage patients and everything out in the field, and that was an awesome experience. Each actor had a card that told us certain vital signs and stuff like that. Because it was really hands-off. We weren’t supposed to treat anybody while we were there, so they made sure we didn’t take our tourniquets with us. (Laugh) But we had to go through all the different levels. First, we went to training to tell us how to triage and how to level, so that way it’s a quick triage, so you know where to start and be able to get these patients safely to a hospital. And we had to go read each person’s card, and we had to decide what level of triage they were, so we could know how to treat them. 

Right. What was it like, being in that really … I would assume that would be kind of a stressful scenario? The actors are simulating very severe injuries. 

Well, going into it, you’re kind of like, “OK, this is going to be easy as snot.” But then, when you go through the simulation, you’re feeling the adrenaline rush, you’re like, “Oh, well, I want to triage him like this,” and then you never wanted to say anybody was the highest level of non-savable. You’re like, “No, no, we can save them!” So, we actually got to experience some of the emotions that went along with that as well. So, it was great practice. I hope every nurse or every student that’s there is feeling the empathy. So, getting to experience that kind of high-stakes situation, without really being high-stakes, is a great way to learn, so hopefully you can hold your composure when you’re doing it in real life.

How do you feel like you’ve grown since coming to Mennonite College of Nursing? 

I have definitely seen my confidence level increase a lot. Even from before starting junior year in the actual program, having to get a CPR class and then having to redo it before starting senior year, there was great improvement, so I’ve really seen my confidence start to come out. And, you know, I have more confidence and more ability to be able to help people, so it’s great to see your learning, from where you’re starting to where you are now, even. 

What do you think you would say to your younger self about coming to Mennonite College of Nursing and just the nursing experience in general? 

Though you’re going to go through days where you kind of question why you’re here because it’s so stressful, I mean, we’re literally going to have people’s lives in our hands, it is so absolutely worth it. Just grab it by the horns and do it. 

“This program offers so many different opportunities. They really are here to make you succeed, so they’ll match your effort.”

For people who are thinking about nursing school and thinking about coming to MCN, why should they choose MCN? Why did you choose this program? 

This program offers so many different opportunities. The CAUSE grant, there’s other grants available, to give you a more well-rounded education, and the level of caring that the staff exhibits, and their willingness to work with you, and the support you have as far as tutoring and stuff like that. They really are here to make you succeed, so they’ll match your effort.  

Illinois State University’s BSN program has more information about CAUSE and the course work requirements needed to transfer to MCN.