What can I do with a Holistic Nursing Certificate?

“If you’re going to go into nursing, this should be required…There’s a mental health crisis in healthcare, and so we really need to take care of our nurses. Not just so they can be nurses, but so that they can be present and alive and healthy… I feel like this information is just essential: Nurses need to know how to take care of themselves and take care of each other.” – Ellen Moreno, Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Summer 2023

ellen moreno headshot

Rediscovering Her Passion and Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Ellen Moreno has long been passionate about health, nutrition, and treating the whole person. After becoming disillusioned with the corporate healthcare model, she found herself trying to rediscover her love for nursing by returning to a holistic focus. Having recently completed the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate at the University of Connecticut (UConn), Ellen is excited by the new opportunities that are opening for her to share her knowledge and expertise in ways that will help bridge the current knowledge gap in health and wellbeing.

Disillusioned and searching to rediscover her passion

After working as a clinical nurse for 16 years, Ellen found herself questioning her career pathway. While she’d always considered nursing naturally holistic, her experiences working in the corporate healthcare model did not align with this expectation. “A lot of what’s happening in the hospital, especially with staffing issues and with all the technology, is that so much of our focus is on the technology and the delivery of medicine using all those tools. So, about a year before I applied to the UConn program, I was just feeling very disillusioned with it all and frustrated. I was wondering: Why did I get into this?”

With a Master’s in Nursing Education, Ellen had considered going back to teaching, but recognized she first needed to rediscover her passion for nursing. “I couldn’t remember why I was a nurse anymore. I was trying to reconnect with why I went into nursing, and I was remembering that perspective of treating the whole person and wanting to get back to that – and try to rediscover why I became a nurse. I was looking online doing research to try to find my way back to that. I was like, ‘Oh, maybe if I rediscover what I’m passionate about, which is treating the whole person, then I can rediscover my love for nursing and get back into that model of being able to share that with others.’”

It was through this searching process that Ellen discovered UConn’s Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program. Starting her journey in fall 2022, Ellen graduated from the 3-course, 9-credit program in summer 2023.

Knowledge deficit in health and nutrition

Initially, Ellen was inspired to pursue holistic nursing because she recognized a gap in knowledge in terms of health maintenance and disease prevention. “Part of the reason I was drawn to the concept of holistic nursing was because I feel like the corporate healthcare model focuses on treating disease. I’ve worked in the hospital for a long time, and I’ve worked primarily in cardiology for over a decade. And probably three quarters of the patients I would see had conditions that would have been preventable or at least would have happened much later in life if they had proper education and time to do basic self-care – and if they knew about how diet effects your body, and different types of exercise. Just all those basic things that we know that we can do to take care of ourselves.”

It was through her lived experiences that Ellen became acutely aware of the connection between diet and inflammatory conditions, including the insight that doctors often lacked the nutritional knowledge, not to mention time, to recognize and address these issues. “I’ve had situations in my own health and in my family’s health where there were food intolerances that the primary care provider did not even think of.” Describing her discoveries of her own gluten-intolerance causing psoriasis, and then her daughter’s milk protein intolerance leading to a GI bleed, Ellen explains this is when she first noticed the knowledge gap: “I realized that pediatricians just don’t know. They know about immunizations and about treating communicable diseases, but they’re really not specialists on nutrition or developmental issues. The thing is, the way our healthcare model is set up, it’s not even the physicians’ fault, because they don’t even have the time to do much else. They get, what, 15 minutes to see a patient, and it’s ‘boom, boom, boom – get everybody in and out.’ There’s so much more. I was interested in holistic nursing because I saw all these different health issues, and so many people just don’t know about them. There’s so much knowledge that we could be sharing.”

While the recognition of this knowledge gap was what initially inspired Ellen to pursue the program, along the way she discovered much more than she’d imagined. “That was why I started the program, but then when I got into the program, there was just so much more, in terms of the mind-body connection, and the self-care, and really doing a full holistic evaluation of yourself. Honestly, the focus on optimizing yourself so that you can provide optimal care for others really was helpful for me at that time. And it really made me more passionate about sharing that with other people, that you really have to look inward first to be a good provider. I got what I was looking for, but I also got so much more.”

Prioritizing self-care to better serve others

While Ellen initially pursued the program in the interest of professional growth, she has been surprised and amazed at the ways it has affected her personal growth too. “I didn’t realize going into it how much it would change my day-to-day. I didn’t really think about that; I was thinking about it more professionally. I’m always kind of amazed.”

She goes on to explain, “One of the core values of holistic nursing is self-care. As a holistic nurse, you need to evaluate yourself and optimize yourself before you take care of other people. It was actually a requirement in our first course (NURS 5001 – Holistic Nursing Part 1: Basic Concepts) to do that full holistic evaluation on yourself. One of the weaknesses I identified was that my work environment was not very healthy for me at that time. I felt empowered to move basically from what I was doing to a new job. It was something that I really needed to do from a self-care perspective that’s benefited me immensely.” Ellen recently left her job at the hospital and has transitioned to her new role of school nurse, providing holistic nursing care to elementary school students.

Through evaluating herself, Ellen discovered ways to enhance her capacity to be present with others in her day-to-day practices by first attending to caring for her own self-care. “You know, you look at your whole self. I feel like there are some aspects that I was usually pretty good about, you know the diet and exercise. But before doing the program, I didn’t have any mindfulness practice. So I’ve definitely grown in that I do have a daily mindfulness practice now. And I do think more about spirituality and what’s bringing meaning to me every day. So I feel like it’s impacting me because now I’m truly living a more holistic lifestyle for myself. Then I can bring that into my day-to-day practice because now when I’m interacting with friends, or family, or my patients, I’m more present and available for them.”

Sharing knowledge: Learning with and from peers

While there were a couple guest instructors on the Zoom meetings, Ellen explains that they mainly worked with Professor Cathy Alvarez: “I thought she was very supportive. She was always available over email, and we had her phone number. So it felt like we were supported throughout the program, and that she was very informed about all these different things that we were talking about.” Ellen also appreciated that the program was online, which enabled her the flexibility to work around her schedule as she balanced work, school, and home life.

A highlight for Ellen was the capacity to learn with and from her peers via the HuskyCT/Blackboard online discussion forum. Given the vastness of the field, she found this sharing of knowledge especially valuable. As Ellen explains, “It is a small group in the holistic program. We got pretty familiar with each other, and our backgrounds, and our different interests. I feel like we learned a lot from each other. There’s just so many different modalities and different things that you could learn about. And different theorists. Most of us had a different nursing theorist that we were drawn to. It’s very easy to just focus on your own interests, but the good thing about the discussion posts is that by reading what other people are sharing, you learn through them to. I learned more about other theorists that I hadn’t been so drawn to in the past. But when you read it from other people’s perspectives and how they’re applying it in their work, it can reframe how you see that theorist, and reframe how you’re using them. And the same thing with some of the modalities. I may have read about it in the text and thought ‘not really for me.’ But then I read about how someone’s using it, or the different research that they found on it, and it provides me more knowledge. So we learn from each other too. I found that the posts and the discussion questions were good for inspiring that kind of discussion and sharing of knowledge.” 

Beyond the woo: Embracing new modalities

Ellen appreciated the breadth of the overview provided by the program, as well as the opportunities to dive deep into the modalities she was most drawn to. “Holism, with all the different mind-body practices, is so broad. You could be studying for a decade and not even get deep into a lot of them. But I feel like the program did give a very strong overview of so many practices, such as Thai Chi, Qigong, acupressure, yoga, energy work, breath work – too many to name. It really lets you dive deeper into what you feel more passionately about and what works for you. But there were a lot of practices that I never even heard of or thought of, or maybe I had heard of it in passing. Some of them I even probably rolled my eyes at. And it kind of inspired me to explore things that in the past I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s kind of woo-woo.’”

One example of a holistic modality that Ellen has shifted her perspective on is Reiki. “Honestly, Reiki I kind of rolled my eyes at. But the more you explore into it, there is definitely something to it. And it makes sense. I mean everything is giving off energy. If you put your hand over the phone while it’s charging, you can feel the energy. You can feel the warmth coming off a person’s body. We’re all energy. Even if we don’t a hundred percent understand how something is working, it doesn’t mean that it’s not.”

Discovering a simple, evidence-based tool for rewiring brain

While Ellen had heard of the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which involves tapping acupressure points, she had assumed it was merely a distraction technique. But as she dove into learning about it, she grew increasingly excited by the many research studies that supported the efficacy of the technique. “I’m very into evidence-based practice. I don’t like telling anybody about anything unless there’s some kind of scientific studies to back it up. So, then I’m reading all these different studies about this technique, and I’m like, ‘Oh, they’re doing CT scans, and they’re doing EEGs, and they’re seeing actual changes in people’s waveforms from their brains.’ And it’s actually rewiring how your brain is thinking about certain things while you’re doing this. There are hundreds of studies; they use it in the VA with PTSD. It’s pretty amazing that there’s this very simple tool that people could use to reframe how they’re feeling about something that’s making them fearful or anxious. It gets me excited that there’s something so simple that we could share with people, and there’s so much evidence to back it up that it could help them.”

Ellen adds, “I found myself using it at certain times. And I’ve done it with my own son. It makes him laugh at least. I’ll do the tapping on him because he gets a little bit of social anxiety. I don’t know if he's reframing his thoughts, but it definitely makes him giggle, and it makes it easier for him.”

Building confidence through sharing knowledge and expertise

One course that Ellen found surprisingly rewarding and empowering was NURS 5003 – Holistic Nursing Practicum. As the last and shortest course in the series (taken during summer semester), the aim of this course is to provide students with opportunities to apply their learning through sharing their knowledge with others. Ellen explains that she felt a bit wary going into the course, doubting that she was ready for this challenge: “Even now I’m still working on feeling like an expert in certain areas, and I don’t think I’ll ever be an expert in everything, so I didn’t have a ton of confidence.”

For the culminating practicum project, Ellen designed and delivered a self-care class for nurses. “A lot of nurses on different units don’t even have time to take a break. I was trying to find methods that I could share with them that were fast and easy to learn – and evidence-based. Even though I studied all of this, and I had all the evidence, and I knew exactly what I was going to teach them, I still felt like, ‘Who am I to go in there and tell them this stuff?’ I appreciated though that it was a requirement for that course. Because I got in there, and I did do it, and I built that confidence through doing it. When I walked out of that, I was like, ‘You know what, I feel like I am a bit of an expert.’ I feel like I am informed, and I feel like it’s empowering for me to be able to share that knowledge with them. And it was rewarding to have people respond positively and be like, ‘Wow, I think I’m going to use this.’”

In addition to using these tools for their own self-care, many of the nurses were excited to share these tools with their patients. As Ellen explains, “I liked that I could frame it in that everyone is different; every tool is not going to work for every person. These are just some of the tools available, but if it doesn’t work for you, it might also be knowledge that you can use to help a friend or to help a patient. The first group that I spoke with was actually nurses in the pediatric, post-anesthesia care unit. They were really interested in how they could use EFT to help their patients. So it was doubly rewarding to see that a lot of them were interested in it for themselves, but they were also like, ‘Let’s keep sharing this information.’”

Essential learning for nurses: Healthcare mental health crisis

Having recently passed the Advanced Holistic Nursing exam, Ellen credits the Holistic Nursing Graduate Certificate program with preparing her and opening new opportunities for her to share her knowledge with other nurses. “I do feel like you take a lot of knowledge out of the program that can benefit yourself and make you healthier – and also improve your practice. I still do have a long-term goal of going into becoming an educator, and I just feel like I’m more prepared for that role in terms of supporting other nurses and their growth. So ultimately, it’s helped me immensely in that I can take better care of myself, and my family, and my colleagues, and anybody I’m taking care of. So as someone who likes to share knowledge with other nurses, I feel like it’s opened a lot of opportunities.”

Ellen passionately believes the tools she’s acquired in the program are essential for all nurses and healthcare staff. “I honestly just wish that this was a requirement. If you’re going to go into nursing, this should be required. Some nursing programs have already gone that way, but undergraduate nurses or LPN – any new nurses – would benefit from having these tools from the get-go, because healthcare is tough. We know that: People are leaving in droves. And honestly, another thing that I’ve looked at in the last year: Female nurses have twice the suicide rate of women in the general population. There’s a mental health crisis in healthcare, and so we really need to take care of our nurses. Not just so they can be nurses, but so that they can be present and alive and healthy. After the last couple years in healthcare, I’m very passionate about taking care of our nurses and our staff and making sure that they’re healthy. I feel like this information is just essential: Nurses need to know how to take care of themselves and take care of each other.”

Practicing presence and active listening

Applying the tools, she’s learned to her day-to-day work has transformed Ellen’s nursing practices for her and her patients. “There are nuances in holistic nursing, like practicing presence and active listening, just providing that for them. But also, I have this little guy who has come in more than once. He’s just running around and gets a stomach cramp, but I think he really thinks there’s something seriously wrong. So, we’ve done deep breathing. It’s nice to see him benefiting from that. And I saw that even in the hospital when I used a lot of these practices. I worked in an area where people were having procedures done. Before a procedure, people are stressed, and they just need someone to listen. In the hospital, unfortunately, we’re not really given the time for that. It’s not encouraged: ‘Don’t delay things because you need to listen to a patient.’ But that’s what people need sometimes. I mean pharmaceuticals help, but it really makes a difference just to be present and listen, and then to provide these different tools, like the deep breathing – or like when I was in procedures, I was letting them choose the music and do a little music therapy. Those little interventions really make a difference, and it also just makes people feel cared for, which is part of nursing too. And I think that’s part of what a lot of nurses are missing in nursing is the opportunity to make people feel cared for.”

Practiced independence to keep growing

In addition to applying her new tools in caring for her patients at the elementary school, Ellen has also embarked on a mission to develop her own private practice. As she continues to deepen her knowledge and skills, her vision is to help fill the knowledge gap to empower people to live healthier lives. “I have this knowledge that I can use to help people take care of themselves, and so I feel like it’s giving me some independence in terms of growing professionally to being able to offer that. Because I think that’s missing in our corporate healthcare model. It’s not really supported, and people are looking for that. People don’t want to be sick. But we’re not giving them the tools to help themselves. There’s this knowledge deficit, and right now there’s not really the resources to help people answer these questions, and help people identify how to live healthy. There are just all these vague suggestions on the internet, and everybody’s confused. I feel like I have the credibility from UConn and from my nursing background, and I have the interest in evidence-based care, and so I have these foundations as an educator to provide that information. So that’s what I’m going to try to do: help people to feel better inside and out so that they can be healthier and happier. That’s the goal.”

“The Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program transformed the trajectory of her nursing career and opened doors to new opportunities. 'Since graduating from the program, I am now leading meditations for staff, physicians, and patients. I was also awarded the employee of the month and have been featured in two articles throughout my large hospital system. The holistic nursing program gave me everything I need to fulfill my dreams in the holistic nursing arena'.” - Audrey Stoppel, BSN, BA, RN, OCN, RTCN, Summer 2021 Graduate, University of Connecticut Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program

UConn Online Holistic Nursing Graduate Certificate, Audrey Stoppel 1For Audrey Stoppel, participating in UConn’s Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program was life-changing, both professionally and personally.

A True Calling

Since 2006, working with cancer patients has been a big part of Audrey Stoppel’s life. In fact, even back then at the start of her career, she had a passion to work with the oncology patient population. As she says, “I’ve had friends and family members struggle and some pass from cancer. I’ve seen for myself what cancer patients endure and how strong they are. Working with cancer patients is truly my calling.”

Following several years as a staff oncology nurse at medical centers in the Chicago area, she became a radiation oncology nurse at Rush Copley Cancer Care Center in Aurora, IL in 2015. While her primary job is to coordinate patients’ care and provide education, support, and guidance through treatment, she realized that one important element of the care continuum was missing. “I observed a real need for a more holistic approach to care beyond treating the patient’s physical health. I was eager to learn new holistic modalities that would support my oncology patients’ journeys, while also creating a more soothing and healing environment at the cancer center.”

AHNCC Endorsed Program

Toward this end, Audrey knew she needed additional education in the holistic nursing field. She considered getting a master’s degree, but wasn’t sure if she could balance coursework with her demanding job and being a mom of three young children. After doing a search online, she found the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program from the University of Connecticut (UConn). “I really liked the fact that it is endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation. After reading about the program, it seemed like something feasible that I could do. Little did I know that when I applied to the program in February 2020, I would be doing it through a pandemic!” In fact, Audrey says she got all her paperwork in for the program one week prior to the March 2020 COVID pandemic shutdown. She started her first course in the fall of 2020 and completed the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program in the summer of 2021.

As Audrey notes, the program has made a tremendous difference in her life, both professionally and personally. From a career standpoint, she says it gave her all the tools she needed to expand her ability to practice from a holistic perspective. Dr. Colleen Delaney, the founding director of the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program, was a wonderful mentor, Audrey says. “She is up to date on all the current research. I hung onto every word she said and wanted to emulate what a great holistic nurse she is. I learned so much from her about the philosophy of holistic nursing, why it’s so important and how to apply modalities to caring for patients.”

Learning from today’s experts in the holistic field

Audrey also greatly appreciated the many guest speakers brought into the program. In fact, during their three virtual class meetings each semester, Dr. Delaney arranged for specialists in the holistic nursing field to talk with students. “While the program was asynchronous, allowing us to participate on our own time, these were actual Zoom calls in real time that were planned well in advance,” notes Audrey. “I was exposed to the leaders in the field of holistic nursing, who talked about how to transform nursing by learning and applying holistic approaches to care. And because these sessions were in real time, we could ask questions. Being able to talk directly with the experts who have developed today’s holistic approaches and theories was incredible,” she adds.

Real-life applications

Another aspect of the holistic nursing program that proved to be extremely beneficial was the online platform. Audrey had done her entire RN to Bachelor’s in Nursing degree online, so she was very accustomed to working remotely. As she notes, “All the work assignments had real-life applications. So we were able to apply learnings to actual nursing practice. We were given a syllabus at the start of the program and knew exactly when assignments were due. So other than the Zoom calls with the guest speakers, we could work the program around our own time constraints.” 

Opening doors to new opportunities

As Audrey says, the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program transformed the trajectory of her nursing career and opened doors to new opportunities. “Since graduating from the program, I am now leading meditations for staff, physicians, and patients. I was also awarded the employee of the month and have been featured in two articles throughout my large hospital system. The holistic nursing program gave me everything I need to fulfill my dreams in the holistic nursing arena.”

In addition, she just recently began leading monthly meditations at the Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center, an outpatient facility affiliated with Rush Copley Cancer Care Center that provides education, support, and holistic services for cancer patients. As she explains, “Waterford Place brings in outside consultants as well as Rush Copley medical staff to lead programming, to practice Reiki, massage, and other mind-body-spirit holistic modalities. My interest lies in leading meditations to help support patients in emotional distress and help them manage the side effects of cancer treatment, potentially reducing their need for more medications.”  

Audrey also credits the UConn holistic nursing program with her being asked to participate in upcoming research studies using holistic modalities with cancer patients and for her being frequently called upon to give educational talks about the benefits of holistic medicine. She is also hoping to expand the wellness program for the nursing staff at the cancer center, especially on the COVID units. “My passion is to share what I’ve learned with my coworkers to help them get what they need to overcome the stress and burnout they face. Meditation is a way to bridge the mind-body-spirit gap that can occur,” says Audrey, who adds that thanks to UConn’s Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program, she was able to sit for the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation certification exam. Having passed the exam, she is now a Board Certified Holistic Nurse. 

Her own healing journey

The program has also transformed her personally, says Audrey. She learned a lot about self-care and self-reflection, which she says helped her overcome much of the emotional stress of being a nurse working through the pandemic, while helping with e-learning for her 3-, 7-, and 9-year-old children. In conclusion, she says: “The holistic nursing program gave me everything I need to fulfill my dreams in the holistic nursing arena. I was very sad when it came to an end because it was amazing and life-changing for me personally. I feel like a different person than when I started.”

“I feel fully prepared to take the Holistic Nursing National Board Certification exam (HN-BC) after having successfully completed the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program. Colleen is well entrenched in the board certification exam which tests nurses’ knowledge of the scope and standards of holistic nursing practice. In fact, she co-authored the Holistic Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice 3rd Edition book (2019). Colleen was able to arrange for the CEO of the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation to be one of our guest speakers. She talked to us about the guidelines, topics covered, and how to study. I feel confident to sit for the exam in the near future.” — Renae Martin, Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program, Summer 2020

Renae Martin, UConn Online Holistic Nursing Graduate Certificate

Renae Martin has now earned another UConn credential to add to her resume: graduate of the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program.

Conquering Stress—Holistically

Renae Martin wanted additional formal education to expand her approach in helping students and staff in the Narragansett, RI school system to prevent the health consequences of stress. A two-time baccalaureate of the University of Connecticut, she had received emails about UConn’s Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program. It struck a chord. What she didn’t anticipate was that the program would tie together all her previous education and professional experience and help her hone in on a new passion—and that it would strengthen her online skills, a necessity when Rhode Island schools were shut down due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“How can you positively influence teenage behavior when it comes to drug and alcohol use?” That’s the question Renae Martin found herself thinking about when she took her job as the Project Coordinator for the Narragansett Prevention Partnership (NPP) in October 2014. A substance abuse prevention coalition, NPP comprises stakeholders from the school administration, police department, local lawmakers, parents, youth-focused agencies, and local businesses. “I quickly realized that if you tell middle school and high school students that they shouldn’t use drugs and alcohol, they shut down. They don’t want to be preached at—no one does,” she says.

As she progressed in her job, Renae began evaluating how physical, mental, emotional, and social issues impact student stress, and how that stress influences decision-making. “Taking a different approach that focused on talking with kids about the stress and anxieties they face helped me build a rapport and develop relationships with the students,” she notes. “From there, the conversations flowed more freely.”

With a background as a cardiac nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital and as a cardiac rehabilitation nurse at Temple Cardiac Rehabilitation, both in New Haven, CT, Renae was already very familiar with the negative effects of stress. As Renae recalls: “I saw firsthand the long-term health implications of every day choices, including diet, exercise, and stress management.”

The timing was just right

In late 2018/early 2019, Renae had been receiving emails about the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program from the University of Connecticut (UConn), where she had already received two degrees: a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sports Medicine/Exercise Physiology in 1989 and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing in 1995. Those emails inspired her to think about pursuing a more formal education in Holistic Nursing and how it could help her learn and implement new stress-relieving strategies with her students. “Stress plays a key role in so many illnesses, and sadly, our culture is extremely pill-oriented,” she notes.

Renae was worried, however, about the time commitment required to participate in the program. “I’m a working mom with two teenage boys. I needed something that was doable. With just three courses (nine credits) taken in sequence over a year, I felt that would be very manageable.”

Online, a bit unsure…at first

In the late spring of 2019, Renae applied for the program—“a streamlined process,” she says—and was accepted for the fall semester. Renae enjoys the dynamic of in-class learning, so she was a bit uncertain about doing a yearlong online program. But thanks to her professor, Dr. Colleen Delaney, she was able to get in the groove quickly. “In the first session of our first course, Colleen walked us through everything,” says Renae. “She took the time to lead us through using the HuskyCT/Blackboard platform. Turns out, I really liked it. And with my responsibilities as a working mom, I couldn’t have done the program if my physical presence was required. Plus, I was in the second course when the Pandemic hit. We never missed a beat!”

Renae adds that despite growing up in the years before online learning, she believes that participating in the certificate program opened up a whole new unexpected skill set that will serve her well going forward. “I had always taught in person. In this era of COVID, I am now skilled in utilizing video conferencing to provide trainings at work. This was not something I expected to learn going into the program.”

Great content, diverse group of classmates

Renae also loved the content and especially appreciated how well organized it was. Each week covered a different topic from self-care and stress management to the nursing process and healthy lifestyles. Dr. Delaney, who taught all three courses, started with NURS 5001 – Holistic Nursing Part 1: Basic Concepts. This course provided a big “brushstroke” look at lifestyles and exercise, along with an in-depth overview of nutrition. In addition to readings in the program’s Holistic Nursing textbook, students read the most recent research articles and were required to record and analyze their personal dietary habits. “That really reinforced the importance of our personal practice of self-care,” says Renae.

The courses included Zoom calls, during which Dr. Delaney facilitated classmates to get to know each other—so important, since they were going through the entire program together as one cohort. “As I read posts from fellow students on the discussion board, I knew who was writing and about their interests and experiences,” says Renae. “Because the program was online, there were people from different places coming together with different ideas. That really enriched the experience.”

Renae finds her passion: HeartMath

One of the attributes that Renae appreciated most about Dr. Delaney was her ability to help students find their inner passions. As she explains: “Colleen was fabulous; her passion for Holistic Nursing is palpable. While she has specialized expertise in the field of Reiki, she taught us about a whole spectrum of Holistic modalities, hoping that we would find our own passion. For me, that turned out to be HeartMath, a program which connects with my background in cardiology and utilizes evidence-based techniques that not only benefit the individual, but also those around them.”

As it’s described online, HeartMath is “a system of scientifically based tools and technologies to bridge the intuitive connection between heart and mind and deepen our connection with the heart of others.” With Dr. Delaney’s encouragement, Renae completed the 20-hour online HeartMath Clinical Certification training over spring break. And today, she has successfully incorporated this program into her position at the Narragansett Prevention Partnership, which she explains was an unanticipated benefit, given the global changes due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“Since my students spent so many hours online for school work this past spring, I knew I had to find a different strategy to reach them,” says Renae. “The answer came to me during our final course,” NURS 5003 – Holistic Nursing Practicum. The Practicum, which gives program participants the opportunity to gain practical experience, required each student to provide a holistic community health program to a minimum of 10 people with whom they don’t typically interact. Renae received permission to work with the elementary school teachers in the Narragansett school system, focusing on the HeartMath program. As she explains: “The teachers are dealing with overwhelming stress in this COVID environment. They are juggling their own lives at home, while simultaneously trying to teach students online. That stress is contagious—students can feel it even if they aren’t in the same room. If I can help teachers be a calm respite for their students, it sets up a whole different energy and learning environment.”

As Renae recalls, the principal was concerned that she wouldn’t get enough interest. But after sending an email that introduced the concepts and benefits of the HeartMath program, 26 teachers signed up. Renae first divided participants into two groups and set up Zoom calls with each group. The teachers were able to ask questions and actually practice the techniques in real time. “I thought if they are using it themselves, they can teach it to their students this fall,” she notes. After that initial success, she was asked to train the district’s teaching assistants and is planning to teach HeartMath techniques to the local middle and high school staff. She will then offer the training to other school districts in the state.

Fully prepared to sit for the HN-BC exam

As Renae looks ahead, she is planning to sit for the Holistic Nursing Board Certification exam (HN-BC). “I feel fully prepared to take the Holistic Nursing National Board Certification exam after having successfully completed the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program. Colleen is well entrenched in the board certification exam which tests nurses’ knowledge of the scope and standards of holistic nursing practice. In fact, she co-authored the Holistic Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice 3rd Edition book (2019). Colleen was able to arrange for the CEO of the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation to be one of our guest speakers. She talked to us about the guidelines, topics covered, and how to study. I feel confident to sit for the exam in the near future.”

“The program was absolutely wonderful. I think the world of Dr. Colleen Delaney, director of the program, and the guest professors. I was a little worried at first since I had not been in school since the 1990s. I thought I would be lost in the shuffle, since UConn is such a large school. But it turned out that I truly felt like I was the only student in the entire university! That’s how one-on-one the courses were.” — Alicia Clendennin, Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program, Summer 2017

UConn Graduate Certificate in Holistic Nursing Alicia Clendennin

Alicia Clendennin found out about the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program just two weeks before the fall session in 2016 began. She was able to enroll as a Non-Degree student initially, later applying to and getting accepted into the program. From day one, she was surprised at how much one-on-one attention she received.

The Perfect Fit

Alicia Clendennin knows firsthand the importance of combining holistic modalities with traditional medicine. Her younger son, Morgan, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Then when Morgan was 12, her older son, Conner, was in a freak accident, leaving him paralyzed between his waist and chest. His spinal cord was 85 percent compressed and close to being severed. Both of her sons received craniosacral therapy, a gentle hands-on approach that is used to release restrictions in any tissue influencing the craniosacral system (the membranes and fluid that surround, protect and nourish the brain and spinal cord).

As Alicia recalls: “When Morgan was a baby and toddler, craniosacral therapy played a huge role in the success of his development—he even did track during high school, although he did still need braces. He is also a ski instructor in the Berkshires and a mechanical engineer, which is so amazing considering he was expected to live his life in a wheelchair and be mentally disabled,” she says and adds: “Conner also had this special type of therapy while he was recovering at Boston Children’s Hospital. I showed his orthopedic surgeon and neurologist photos of Conner leaping hurdles at the steeplechase in New York City just a year after the accident. They couldn’t believe it—they had told me he would be lucky to even walk again.”

Thankfully, Alicia is a nurse—she had received her Masters of Science in Nursing in 1989—and had the skills to care for Morgan, then Conner after his accident. During the time her sons were growing up, she also worked as an Administrator with Interim HealthCare of Eastern Connecticut in Norwich, a position she held from 1997-2017. Then in 2014, with her interest in Holistic Medicine steadily increasing, she decided to become an independent distributor for Young Living Essentials Oils. She also got certified in Raindrop Massage Therapy, which combines gentle massage and essential oils. “That was it! I was sold on Holistic Medicine hook, line, and sinker! It really turned out to be the perfect fit for me, with lots of opportunities to learn about all kinds of new holistic modalities,” she says.


At the prompting of a friend, Alicia decided to investigate the opportunities to get more formal training in Holistic Nursing. She did an online search and the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate came right up. The first class was starting within two weeks, so Alicia immediately reached out to explore how to enroll into the program.

“The program was absolutely wonderful. I think the world of Dr. Colleen Delaney, director of the program, and the guest professors,” says Alicia. “I was a little worried at first since I had not been in school since the 1990s. I thought I would be lost in the shuffle, since UConn is a large school. But it turned out that I truly felt like I was the only student in the entire university! That’s how one-on-one the courses were. I also loved being in the program with younger students. We all had different levels of experience and areas of expertise. It was so great to share that and learn from each other. And I really appreciated that when the professors asked for feedback, they listened and responded by making changes as necessary.”

For the last course (NURS 5003), Alicia was required to do a practicum. She talked with Dr. Colleen Delaney and told her she wanted to do something completely new. Dr. Delaney suggested she go for a nurse coach certification. “I went into the nurse coaching program with great reluctance because I was already doing the Holistic Nursing program and working full time. But I decided to take Dr. Delaney up on her advice and enrolled in Wisdom of the Whole, which she ended up taking with me. I was able to earn the required clinical hours for both certificate programs at the same time by working at the Center for Hospice Care in Norwich, as well as at Interim Healthcare. I am so grateful that Colleen encouraged me. I cherish the skills I acquired. Having gone through the two programs changed my entire life.”

Ending up at the Center for Hospice Care

Alicia had been thinking about retiring from her job at Interim Health when the facility closed two years ago and devote more time to developing her essential oils business. But a temporary position opened up unexpectedly at the Center for Hospice Care. It was a position that was supposed to last nine months while the Center merged with Hartford Healthcare, but Alicia is still there today. “I have agreed to stay on until the end of 2019, then become a contractor with the Center. I’ve used my nurse coach skills during the negotiation process and continue to use them as we become integrated with Hartford Healthcare. We also started using aroma therapies with some of our patients for whom other treatments weren’t working. So I am able to apply the skills I acquired during the Holistic Nursing certificate program on a daily basis.”

In conclusion, Alicia says, “If you are older like I was, don’t let the online platform hold you back. The professors were so attentive to my needs as an individual, I felt like I was the only student they had.”

“Even though we were all located in different places, we were a very tight-knit group of people who care about looking at health from a holistic perspective. For anyone concerned about the online platform, don’t let that be a barrier. The online structure of the program actually created a very supportive learning environment; you just learn in a different way.” — Catherine (Kate) Johnson, Graduate of the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program, Summer 2019

UConn Holistic Nursing Graduate Certificate Kate Johnson

The Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program opened Kate Johnson’s eyes to a whole new world of holistic medicine beyond aromatherapy.

Through the Holistic Lens

At 53, Kate Johnson is no newbie to nursing; in fact, she’s been a nurse for over 30 years, working primarily in community and public health, including serving as Public Health Nurse for the Town of Southwick, MA since 2008. In addition, she holds both an MS and PhD in Nursing Education, and an MBA.

But in 2018, she wanted to switch it up a bit. So following a lifelong interest in essential oils—she’s a Certified Nurse Aromatherapist—Kate decided to enhance her skills in the Holistic Nursing arena. When she did an online search for educational opportunities, up popped the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program from the University of Connecticut (UConn). “It was just what I was looking for,” recalls Kate. “It was a total of 9 credits over three semesters, so that felt very doable to me. It was all online except for some real-time Zoom meetings. The times for the meetings were included in our syllabus, so we knew exactly when we’d need to be available for the group video conferences.”

Kate started in September 2018, finishing this past summer. As she notes, the fall semester was very well-rounded, covering all the basics of various Holistic Nursing modalities, from diet and exercise to meditation and the effects of stress on health. The second semester was much more “hands-on,” during which she learned a great deal about Reiki, acupressure, meditation, nutrition, and much more, enabling her to be able to better evaluate which modalities work best for specific symptoms and health conditions. That led right into the last semester, NURS 5003 – Holistic Nursing Practicum, during which she and her fellow students were able to focus on a specific modality or combination of modalities and put their new knowledge to work in a community setting. As Kate notes, “Humans are very complex, and we can’t just look at one piece of the puzzle. The program taught me how to look at traditional nursing practice through the holistic lens. It really opened my eyes to a lot more than aromatherapy.”

Small cohort—strong connections

By far one of the program’s biggest strengths for Kate was its online platform—not surprising, since Kate did her entire PhD online and was very accustomed to the online way of learning. As Kate says, “We had such fruitful exchanges about various topics. And our cohort was nine students. Because it was small, everyone was able to participate, and everyone got a lot of individual attention.”

In addition, Kate found the real-time Zoom video conferences to be extremely helpful, especially since the program’s director and its primary professor, Dr. Colleen Delaney, used the Zoom meetings as a way to bring in outside experts. Says Kate: “As a key member of the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) governing board, she was able to get several of her colleagues in to talk about the future of Holistic Nursing, its challenges, best practices, and so much more. We would never have had that opportunity without Dr. Delaney’s outstanding reputation in the field.”

Kate also mentions that it was very beneficial to be in a program with learners who have the kind of passion for Holistic Nursing that she has. “Whether it was the discussion boards or the Zoom meetings, we had a chance to brainstorm extensively about the challenges of bringing Holistic Nursing into a traditional nursing practice and ways to get patients and staff excited and onboard with holistic modalities.”

The Zoom platform also gave the cohort the opportunity to practice certain skills together, such as deep breathing. And as Kate emphasizes: “Even though we were all located in different places, we were a very tight-knit group of people who care about looking at health from a holistic perspective. For anyone concerned about the online platform, don’t let that be a barrier. The online structure of the program actually created a very supportive learning environment; you just learn in a different way.”

Exploring the combined use of two modalities during the Practicum

During the final Practicum, Kate did extensive research on using two holistic modalities together—aromatherapy and the 'M' Technique®, a method of structured touch massage developed in the 1990s. “I was very interested in finding out if using these two modalities together could help decrease stress, pain, and/or to help alleviate grief,” she explains.

Fortunately, as a UConn student, she was able to access key databases through the UConn Library for articles that could provide some insight into the use of the two techniques together, including PubMed, CINAHL, and the dozens of other databases that are available to anyone taking courses at UConn. Says Kate: “We had access to millions of articles in the databases, including journal articles specific to Holistic Nursing. You can also search with very specific criteria. I couldn’t have done the research I did without being able to take advantage of those resources. It was absolutely amazing to have those tools at hand.” Using the database resources, Kate put together a solid proposal for the Practicum that focused on how faith-based communities address depression and healing and how aromatherapy and the M Technique used together may help.

After attending a training in the M Technique, Kate set up a seminar at her church in Southwick, MA, showing participants how to do this special type of message in which each movement and sequence is done a set number of times, in a set pattern, at a set pressure and speed that never varies. She also offered a variety of essential oils from which participants chose to make their own roll-on. “I remember one of the women made a lavender essential oil roll-on and used it before she went to sleep. She called me the next day and told me it was the best sleep she had in years!” recalls Kate.

As Kate looks ahead, she is planning to lead more community-based seminars in combining aromatherapy and the M Technique. “After the program I had at my church, I received a call from a woman who wants me to do the program at her church. I love being able to help educate people so that they can make good decisions based on facts. Getting the right products can be very tricky; you really need to read the labels and make sure it is a proper grade of oils. There are a lot of products that are not pure-based. It’s important to know what to ask.”

“Earning the certificate adds a lot to your resume, showing that you have the additional drive to do something beyond what you get from graduating as a nurse or nurse practitioner. And with UConn’s outstanding reputation in the nursing field, you will have a big advantage when it’s time to get a preceptor for the third and final course.” — Devin Pray, Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program, Summer 2018

UConn Online Graduate Certificate in Holistic Nursing, Devin Pray

Devin Pray feels so much more prepared to help patients at the VA who are interested in alternative forms of medicine, thanks to earning the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate in Summer 2018.

New Holistic Nursing Comes Naturally

After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Rhode Island, Devin Pray went on to receive a second undergraduate degree in Nursing 15 years later, along with two Master’s degrees—an MS in Biomedical Science and an MS in Nursing—all three of which were from the University of Connecticut (UConn). With his MS in Nursing in hand, he began working as a Nurse Practitioner Resident with the Veterans Health Administration in West Haven, CT, where he will complete his residency in 2020. “The VA had offered their patients a wide range of holistic healthcare options. I wanted to learn more about holistic modalities so that I could better support this patient population, with its complex health issues,” notes Devin.

Back to his alma mater

So he naturally turned to his alma mater to see what UConn might offer in the way of additional education in the Holistic Nursing field. To his delight, he discovered just what he was looking for: the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program. In fact, looking back, he recalls that Dr. Colleen Delaney, the program’s director, who was one of his professors when he was in UConn’s accelerated, one-year post-baccalaureate nursing program in 2014, told him about the online graduate certificate in Holistic Nursing.

Fast forward to 2016. At the time Devin had just started UConn’s Adult Gerontological Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Program to earn his MS in Nursing. Despite the rigors of graduate school, he decided to take the plunge and began the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate program about half way through completing his masters. “It was a very busy time, to say the least,” notes Devin, who took all three courses consecutively, earning his certificate in Holistic Nursing in the summer of 2018.

The online platform was key

How was he able to handle such a busy schedule? “Being able to complete all three courses online was the key reason I could go through the program while simultaneously getting my MS in Nursing,” he explains and adds: “The online platform allowed me to be flexible and continue as a full-time graduate student at UConn. I typically did the Holistic Nursing coursework in the evenings or on weekends. It was great to be able to fit the work into my schedule as time allowed.”

Devin has put his new skills to good use at the VA, especially his new knowledge about acupuncture, which he says is used extensively with veterans. “So many of my patients ask me about holistic healthcare options, like herbal medications, acupuncture, meditation, and essential oils. This is not surprising; many patients at the VA have tremendous anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and other issues related to being in active duty.”

Reaching a comfort level

As Devin notes, the takeaways from the program enabled him to better discuss holistic options with his patients. “I learned so much about holistic care and feel equipped to explain various modalities; it comes so much more naturally now. Going through the program also made me a better listener and more prepared to look at my patients from a holistic point of view, not simply a person with a specific disease. I am much more comfortable with teaching meditation techniques, mindfulness, using herbal supplements and essential oils—whatever my patients are interested in, I’m now able to provide a greater menu of options.”

In large part, Devin credits Dr. Delaney for his current success working with veterans interested in holistic medicine. “Dr. Delaney is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about teaching. She goes above and beyond to help students in any way possible. And she’s very kind and caring. She made the program!”

Putting new knowledge into practice

During the third course, NURS 5003 – Holistic Nursing Practicum, Devin and the other students in his cohort participated in a community-based education program revolving around a holistic modality that was of particular interest to them. Devin was able to have Dr. Delaney as his preceptor. His field of interest? Meditation and mindfulness, which are also specific areas of interest for Dr. Delaney. “She gave me additional resources and guidance on techniques, as well as helped me learn how to teach meditation,” says Devin, who organized and led a class in meditation at the Farmington Library in his hometown as part of the final Practicum. “It was a terrific experience putting my skills to use, helping people from my local community. I prepared a survey that everyone took before and after the meditation session. And I’ve continued following up to help participants perfect their own meditation and mindfulness skills.”

Self-care comes first

Devin recommends the program for another important reason: self-care. As he notes, there was a big emphasis on self-care. Students were asked to do self assessments and look at being aware of their own holistic health, like diet; exercise; spiritual, emotional, and physical health; and daily activities. “You must take care of yourself first before you can expect it of anyone else. The program was very helpful for my own sense of well-being,” he says.

When he is asked about the program from other colleagues, he is quick to point out that having the certificate will benefit nurses in virtually any field. “Earning the certificate adds a lot to your resume, showing that you have the additional drive to do something beyond what you get from graduating as a nurse or nurse practitioner. And with UConn’s outstanding reputation in the nursing field, you will have a big advantage when it’s time to get a preceptor for the third and final course.”

Preparation for National Boards

Need one more reason to consider the program? Earning the certificate also helps prepare students to gain certification with the National Board Certification in Holistic Nursing. “I feel much more prepared to go forward with board certification and plan to do that once I finish my residency program in 2020,” says Devin.

“It was so much better than I ever expected of online learning. The Zoom meetings and the discussion boards were phenomenal. I felt like I really got to know my classmates, some of whom I am still in contact with.” —Selina Jose, Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program, Summer 2018

UConn Online Graduate Certificate in Holistic Nursing, Selina Jose

During the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate Program, Selina Jose became familiar with a wide range of holistic modalities, enabling her to determine which modality or combination of modalities would work best for her patients’ specific situations.

A Natural Next Step

It’s not surprising that Selina Jose ended up earning the Holistic Nursing Online Graduate Certificate; after all, she was very familiar with the University of Connecticut (UConn), having received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from UConn in 2017. During her senior year, she had Dr. Colleen Delaney as her professor of NURS 3130 Public Health Nursing. As Selina says: “I remember Dr. Delaney encouraging me to consider the Holistic Nursing certificate program, most likely because of my interest in naturopathic medicine. And I’ve always been very interested in mindfulness and meditation.”

Real-time virtual meetings

In 2017, just after graduating with her BSN that previous spring, she took Dr. Delaney’s advice and enrolled in the certificate program. Throughout the program, she was pleasantly surprised at how much she was able to connect with her classmates. She credits this, in part, to the remote Zoom video conferencing in which the entire class joined together in real-time virtual meetings. In addition, students participated in discussion boards to which faculty members would post questions and students would add their responses and could respond to each other, providing invaluable feedback and insights. “It was so much better than I ever expected of online learning,” notes Selina. “The Zoom meetings and the discussion boards were phenomenal. I felt like I really got to know my classmates, some of whom I am still in contact with.”

During the 9-credit certificate program, Selina especially liked being introduced to the wide range of holistic modalities. “I loved the theories and models we learned. And the textbook, along with such online resources as articles and videos, were great. By the end of the program, I felt very familiar with the myriad of Holistic Nursing principles. The courses also taught me which Holistic modality to use for a specific situation and patient and why that would be the right choice.” Selina adds that she also greatly appreciated the personal coaching she received from Dr. Delaney. “She really cares about each student and engages with you. She doesn’t push her interests on you, but guides you to be the best version of yourself as a holistic nurse,” she notes.

Perfect timing

Right around the time Selina enrolled in the program, she had been hired by Connecticut Children’s Hospital in 2017 as a Registered Nurse in the Nursing Float Pool. As a new graduate hire, she was enrolled into the organization’s Nurse Residency Program. As part of this, she was supported to do a research project that would influence practice change. She decided to focus her project on promoting “self-care” for nurses, specifically on looking at ways to help reduce burn out with staff nurses through mindfulness and meditation. She and three other nurses who shared her passion for Holistic Nursing developed an intervention called BREAK, which is short for Be Present, Recognize and acknowledge all feelings, Energize and take a deep belly breath, Accept what is and move forward, and Know your metta sentence, and repeat. (This is a positive sentence that can help people reframe their mind, steering away from negative thoughts.)

“The timing was perfect. I was able to blend what I was learning in the Holistic Nursing certificate program with my research project while influencing my peers,” notes Selina. She was also able to apply the research to NURS 5003 Holistic Nursing Practicum, the third and final course of the certificate program. To date, she has used BREAK with dozens of nurses at the Children’s Hospital. “I’ve had many nurses tell me that they use BREAK on their own; in fact, one of the managers asked me to teach it to her staff during one of their meetings”. Selina is also planning to present her research at the Building Brighter Futures Conference in Westbrook, CT this fall. “Dr. Delaney was so encouraging, coaching me through the process of developing the framework and implementing it here at the hospital. With her guidance and extensive experience in publishing, I am also hoping to get the research published with my team in the Journal of American Holistic Nursing.