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October STEM Spotlight - Madison Van Dalen

"My advice for young women entering the STEM field is to never settle! Know that it is never too late to change directions or start fresh."

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to your career.

My name is Madison Van Dalen and I live in Ottawa, ON. I graduated from the University of Guelph in 2015 and Queen’s University in 2019. I am now a Nursing Project Manager working with the Government of Canada. On the weekends, I teach dance and I absolutely love both of my jobs!

I had a bit of a round-about journey to get to my current career, and looking back now I wouldn’t change one minute of it. When I was leaving high school, I knew I was passionate about healthcare but I was not able to pinpoint one area of healthcare that I wanted to work in more than others. I completed a Bachelor of Science in Human Kinetics at the University of Guelph, and with that degree I worked as a Vision Therapist. This was a very niche and intriguing area of healthcare, and while I enjoyed this job very much I knew deep down I was not yet done with my academic life. Upon researching Masters programs I was struggling trying to find one that would lead me to a career path that I would LOVE. Eventually, I stumbled upon the Accelerated Standing Track Nursing Program at Queen’s University, which is a two year program (a similar timeline to a Master’s). While I was still unsure about where I fit in the world of healthcare, I knew that nursing is a very broad profession with many fields and I trusted that I would be able to find something that I loved with that degree under my belt.

And so I went back to school for 2 years, wrote the NCLEX, and went straight into my career as a Registered Nurse with the federal government!


2. How did you choose what field of nursing you wanted to work in and what might be surprising about your field?

I think in many ways this field of nursing chose me! In nursing school I knew I was interested in public health nursing, which is a proactive, upstream approach to population healthcare (for example through health promotion, disease prevention, education, etc.). I first learned about nursing in a correctional context in my Mental Health clinical placement. During this placement, I became immediately aware of the unique health needs of the inmate population in Canada and felt a desire to work with this marginalized population.

3. Have you benefitted from mentoring in your journey and how so?

Definitely. I have had many strong, intelligent and professional nurses mentor me along my journey and I’m sure I will continue to be mentored by them in the future! They have shown me the valuable leadership role nurses can play in management and have exposed me to opportunities I never dreamed possible. In particular, one of my mentors is a nurse who worked at the Public Health Agency of Canada for many years. Working with and learning from her has given me the confidence and inspiration to speak my mind and always seek new educational experiences.

"Knowing I lacked some of the clinical experience compared to other candidates fueled me to learn as much as possible about the field as quickly as possible, to take pride in every piece of work I submitted, and to take on as many new challenges as I could to expose myself to as many experiences as possible."

4. What challenges have you faced and how have they inspired you to learn more?

Public health nursing positions are often held by those who have worked a number of years in front-line nursing positions. This experience provides them with the knowledge-base to write policies, develop public health programs, and effectively manage other individuals on their teams. Those who are young and have had less work experience are often overlooked for such positions. As a new graduate interested in public health, I had to work very hard to prove myself and to turn my initial temporary contract with the federal government into a permanent position. I was able to apply other relevant work experience gathered from previous front-line work experience as a Vision Therapist and various other patient-facing opportunities throughout my time at Queen’s to my role. Knowing I lacked some of the clinical experience compared to other candidates fueled me to learn as much as possible about the field as quickly as possible, to take pride in every piece of work I submitted, and to take on as many new challenges as I could to expose myself to as many experiences as possible.

5. What part of your journey do you feel most proud of so far?

I am proud of myself for changing directions with my career, going back to school and working hard toward this new goal. When I was considering going back to school a few years back, I already had an undergraduate degree under my belt and I was employed in a very comfortable, full-time job. The decision to go back to school was somewhat of a financial risk (going from the stability of working full-time back to student-mode) and put some aspects of my personal life on hold for a couple years. Having come out on the other side and found a great job that I LOVE has already made that choice completely worth it. I am proud of myself for giving it a shot instead of sticking with the career I was working after my first degree.

6. How has Covid -19 affected your job?

Over the past year and a half, COVID-19 has taken the world of nursing and turned it upside down. My position with the Government of Canada was initially as a member of the Public Health and Epidemiology team, however when the pandemic began I became a member of the COVID-19 Response Team. We worked many, many long days and through many weekends and holidays as we managed COVID-19 within our institutions.

COVID-19 has shed a lot of spotlight on nurses and has emphasized the value of our knowledge of disease transmission, clinical management of patients, and infection prevention and control principles.

7. What is one piece of advice you have for young women wanting to enter the STEM field?

My advice for young women entering the STEM field is to never settle! Know that it is never too late to change directions or start fresh. It may be scary and it may not be easy, but there is something perfect for you out there. No matter what obstacles seem to be in the way, things have a way of working themselves out. If you think there is something bigger and better out there for you, just go for it.


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