'It's like an allegory for my life' - Chantal Dengah
From nursing school to rock climbing, graduate reaches for new heightsDebra Melani | College of Nursing May 19, 2019
No one can predict who will make a great nurse, but when it comes to Chantal Dengah, the cards are in her favor.
As with any medical professional, skill and accuracy are required for nursing success, two characteristics engrained in Dengah, set to graduate from the University of Colorado College of Nursing during the May 24 Spring Commencement.
While her coursework on the Anschutz Medical Campus laid a solid foundation for her career that lies ahead, other life experiences — from her first time in labor to her rock-climbing hobby — should play a hand in her success.
Birthing experience triggers career goal
“I went into nursing to become a nurse midwife,” said Dengah, whose career epiphany came after the birth of her first child. “I hemorrhaged, and the midwife was definitely able to take over,” she said.
Dengah said she didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation until talking with her caregivers afterward.
“It could have been a bad story. But it wasn’t, because they knew what they were doing. And I realized: OK, this is what I want to do.”
Dengah, who had two more midwife-assisted births, began looking at nursing programs. She chose CU Nursing largely for its rigorous curriculum and rich history of innovation and research, she said.
“It also had a midwifery program, and I liked the idea of having that continuity of education,” Dengah said. “I knew this was the place that I could accomplish all of those things.”
Student government role leads to unification
With a BSN in hand, Dengah will enter the Nurse-Midwifery Education program this August, leaving behind her undergraduate years packed with extracurricular experiences.
“I fell in love with nursing associations, because I saw how people came together and created change and opportunity,” said Dengah.
Dengah served as president of CUSNA for more than a year, during which she led a successful transition of unifying student leadership between the south and Anschutz campuses.
“I also trusted people to take full charge of their roles,” Dengah said of initiating a roundtable-like leadership style. “I think that produces better outcomes.”
Program allows change: one person at a time
Dengah also served as the reproductive work group leader for the DAWN (Dedicated to Aurora’s Wellness and Needs) clinic as an undergraduate. The student-staffed clinic provides healthcare for the uninsured.
“For me, it just continued to underscore that idea that there are so many people who want access to care,” she said of her time at DAWN. “And if we all could just donate a little bit of our time as medical professionals … it’s not a fix, but it’s a way we can at least help this person right now.”
CU connections shine light on research, policy
Among about a dozen students selected for the Honors Research Program, Dengah went on to become one of only three who finished. “And we were able to present our research at the WIN (Western Institute of Nursing) conference in San Diego, so that was really cool.”
Dengah worked with her mentor, Lori Trego, PhD, a nurse midwife and military veteran, on a study evaluating the military environment’s effect on women members’ health.
A valuable mentor, Trego helped in Dengah’s decision to not stop at a master’s degree, she said. Dengah will pursue a PhD, and will work to influence public policy, an area in which she was also able to cut her teeth at CU, she said.
As student liaison on the Alumni Association board, Dengah was chosen to represent the university and testify against a bill that the board deemed detrimental to nursing. “It was really a great experience.”
Adventurous lifestyle translates to life
Although it might seem Dengah is all work and no play, that’s not the case. Dabbling in film school before coming to CU, Dengah has made entertainment connections, singing backup for some of her local artist friends and being part of two music videos.
Her exposure landed her other jobs, including as TV host for an adventure show that had her doing everything from paragliding to skydiving and as a ring girl for a the national MMA, which she still does.
But rock climbing is Dengah’s chief pastime. “It’s my main go-to, my moving meditation,” she said.
“When you are climbing, you have to focus on the task at hand. The climb is challenging, and it’s tricky, and you have to weigh out what your next moves are going to be. You have to stretch yourself mentally and physically to be able to get through it,” she said.
“But then you get to the top and you look down and see all that you’ve accomplished. It’s like, ‘Wow, I did that.’ And you have this beautiful vista. It’s like an allegory for my life.”
Dengah said she is glad she chose CU Nursing. “There are a lot of opportunities that CU offers that I wouldn’t have had as much at other schools. If you are a graduate of CU, it means a lot.”