Lifelong Learner

Thursday, May 26, 2016

71-year-old receives doctorate at Rush Commencement

By Deb Song

Ingrid Forsberg was in her 60s and had been working as a nurse for more than four decades when she decided not to retire, but to pursue a doctorate of nursing practice.

“I’m still a practicing clinician and I want to stay up-to-date in my profession,” Forsberg says. “My career is my passion. I want to be able to provide the best care for my patients in the community, so I have to keep learning and growing.”

Now 71 years old, Forsberg received her DNP diploma at Rush University’s commencement ceremony on May 26. She was the oldest of the nearly 850 graduates honored at the University’s 44th commencement.

In a sense, it was the second time Forsberg graduated from Rush: In 1965, she received her nursing diploma from Presbyterian-St. Luke’s School of Nursing, the predecessor of the Rush University College of Nursing.

Refreshing her perspective

Seeing that the Rush University College of Nursing had begun offering a DNP in population health outcomes, Forsberg felt the opportunity was tailored for her.

“To me, being a nurse practitioner is about being a clinician and an educator. To continue in this role, it is important to have a fresh perspective for each individual and their situation,” she says.

“Throughout my experiences as a nurse and nurse practitioner, I’ve learned to be open-minded, and I hope that trait is something I can pass on to others who are thinking about becoming involved in the health of communities and primary care.”

Aside from Forsberg, fifty percent of the students in Rush’s DNP program are in their 20s and 30s. The other half are in their 40sand 50s. Nonetheless, she says she never felt out of place or that her age was a problem.

“I have really felt that Rush University’s support for diversity and inclusion includes me. My younger classmates appreciated my experience and the knowledge I brought to classes,” she says.

Embracing technology and diversity

Going back to school is something of a habit for Forsberg, who received bachelor and master’s degrees in the 1970s from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She thinks the best change in education is how contemporary technology enables her to connect to educational resources wherever she is. 

“It makes going back to school much easier,” she says. “The internet, changing technology and online class courses makes it more convenient and gives you the flexibility to learn at a time and pace that fits you.”

She also credits social change with removing professional barriers related to age. “I feel my age has been an asset,” she says.

“It has been very apparent to me that students in their twenties and thirties attending Rush, especially those who I have shared classes with, see no boundaries between age, sex, race and religion.”

She believes other older adults who return to school will find themselves welcomed by their younger classmates. “The younger generations were brought up to be more accepting of diverse populations, so going back to school at an older age should not be a concern,” Forsberg says.

Pioneer travels

One of four children, Forsberg grew up in a Brevik, Minnesota, a small farming town, and Chicago, where her family moved in the 1950s. 

She worked as a nurse at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital for several years after receiving her nursing diploma. Forsberg tracked and provided surveillance for hospital-acquired infections for a year, then served as a medical and surgical unit nurse for several years. 

Wanting to experience the world, Forsberg traveled to Norway and spent a year as an operating room nurse at Oslo University Hospital. She also met and visited her relatives who were still in Norway and Sweden.

After she returned to Chicago, she worked for several years in at the Chicago Maternity Center.

The nurse practitioner movement began in 1965 for pediatric nurse practitioners, and academic family nurse practitioner programs developed soon afterwards. Forsberg recalls that she was admitted to the third or fourth class at UIC. 

“I left the Chicago Maternity Center, which was slated to close, and decided I wanted to pursue family practice and becoming a nurse practitioner. That was the path I wanted to take, but I knew I had to further my education,” she says.

She obtained her bachelor’s in 1976 and then her master’s degree in 1978 as a family nurse practitioner.

“I became a nurse practitioner as a pioneer, and I feel with my graduation from Rush in May, I am again a pioneer in nursing,” she says.

Forsberg’s husband, Michel Kenron, and her two sons, Eric and Daniel, have supported her throughout her professional career. Forsberg met Kenron in 1970 after both finished their master’s degrees. Forsberg and her husband live on the northwest side of Chicago.

‘I have had many loud splashing dives’

Forsberg returned to Rush in 2000 as a nurse practitioner in College of Nursing’s Office of Faculty Practice, which runs the clinical practices of nursing faculty. She also worked at the Mercy-Dunbar Health Center near Rush, which earned her the 2008 Super Start in Community Nursing Award from the VNA Foundation, a philanthropic organization that grew out of the Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago.

“I have worked with Ingrid over many years as a colleague and now as a student advisee,” says Sarah Ailey, PhD, professor of community systems and mental health “Both she and I are part of the 60’s generation and still think we should change the world.”

Ailey says that Forsberg’s thesis has potential to identify paths to greater patient engagement and through them, better patient-centered care.

“In addition to completing her thesis, Forsberg now will apply her depth of knowledge and experience working at Rush’s Lincoln Park practice.  Ingrid has that can do spirit and is still in the game,” Ailey says. 

“I feel I have had many loud splashing dives into the pool during my lifetime,” says Forsberg. “Even if you are near retirement or have passed retirement age and have a desire to learn something new, then go for it.

“You never know where you can use what you learn.  You can be an inspiration to your family and friends,” says Forsberg.

Although she isn’t mapping out a 10-year plan, Forsberg does have expectations for the future.

“I do know that I will continue to grow in my profession, contribute to the education of students, interact with my colleagues, and provide good patient care in any way I can,” she says.