She graduated from Yale after raising 3 kids. Her son was her classmate.

Vanessa Landegger had long dreamed of working in medicine.

She enrolled in courses as a first-year medical student in Colorado in 2000, but soon found herself struggling to balance classes with raising her then 8-month-old son. She was away from extended family, sleep was hard to come by and her medical school’s facilities didn’t have accommodations for nursing mothers, she said.

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“In retrospect, I was hit pretty hard by how unforgiving clinical education generally is,” Landegger, 50, told The Washington Post.

A few weeks into her studies, she decided to drop out.

But she eventually returned to health care and last week graduated from the Yale School of Nursing. Her son, Dylan Antonioli, now 24 and a first-year student in the same program, was there cheering her on. Though she had cut short her dream of working in medicine to raise him, he helped inspire her to return to the field decades later.

“The ceremony was extremely healing,” Landegger said of her graduation.

Decades ago, while Landegger considered a medical career, she and her husband were also hoping to have children. They decided she would submit her med school applications, defer her enrollment while she had their first child and start classes a year later.

But when she began the program, Landegger found herself struggling to balance parenthood and the demands of her classes. Her husband was supportive, she said, and took care of their son while she was in school. Still, she felt unhappy as she attempted to strike a balance between classes and parenting.

Landegger knew she wanted to drop out. But not before taking the midterm exams that year.

“I never wanted there to be a question of whether I could do it or not,” she said.

When the exam results were posted on a bulletin board, Landegger saw that she had ranked third, she recalled. She had walked to check the outcome with a resignation letter in her pocket that she’d written for the medical school dean. School administrators had tried to get her to stay, Landegger recalled, but she had made up her mind, feeling she needed to choose her son over her medical program.

“For me, anyway, it was a very welcome thing to have to put myself aside and really consider the needs of another person,” she said.

Landegger went on to earn master’s degrees in public health and education - theory-based programs that felt more doable to her while parenting. She became a teacher in Connecticut, where she raised Dylan and her two other children.

Although she had always imagined herself in a clinical career, she looked back over the years on her decision to drop out of medical school without remorse. But she still felt like something was missing.

That missing piece revealed itself in 2018, when Antonioli, who had trained to become an emergency medical technician, encouraged his mother to take the same training course he had completed.

“It’s more accessible, so I thought maybe she’d like to have a little taste of medicine again,” he said.

At first, Landegger figured taking the course would help her handle emergency situations at the elementary school where she taught science. But months after she finished her training in 2019, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic made EMT work and other health care even more essential.

At the same time, Antonioli, who was taking undergraduate classes at Georgetown University, came home when the school closed amid surging coronavirus cases. He and Landegger filled their time picking up EMT shifts in their town of New Canaan, Conn., and supported each other through the intense work days during an already uncertain, chaotic time.

The experience, Landegger said, was “like putting on a glove.” Her crew chief, fellow EMTs and paramedics she worked with commented on her knack for interacting with patients and her curiosity about the cases she worked on.

“I really felt at home in those conversations and quite capable,” Landegger said.

She decided “not to ignore” that feeling. She knew by then that she didn’t want to go back to medical school, but she wanted something beyond her EMT work. Becoming a nurse practitioner felt like a middle ground.

Landegger took prerequisite courses online through Georgetown - including a chemistry course with Dylan - so she could apply to nursing school. In 2021, she began the three-year program at Yale.

Antonioli, who had returned to Georgetown to finish his psychology major, wasn’t sure what he would do after graduation. Like Landegger, he had always had an interest in health care. So when he was a senior in 2022, Landegger suggested he shadow one of her Yale professors, who was a nurse practitioner at a Connecticut hospital.

“I just fell in love with it,” Antonioli said.

Following in his mother’s footsteps, he applied for Yale’s nursing master’s program, which he plans to finish in 2026.

As he and Landegger trained to be nurse practitioners for the past year, they enjoyed the rare experience of being a mother-son duo at the same school. Landegger was a leader at Antonioli’s orientation, surprising other students who discovered their relationship. Landegger gave her son opinions on the courses he could take in his first year. And whenever possible, they met up on campus between classes.

When Landegger graduated on May 20, it was the third time Antonioli was in the audience while she finished a master’s program. But it was the first time that he was her classmate.

During the ceremony, Landegger - who will soon begin working as a midwife at a Connecticut hospital - said she kept looking back to where Dylan sat. Her graduation brought back memories of her own first year in the program, when it sometimes felt difficult to “see the endpoint.”

Landegger hopes the ceremony helped show her son that he, too, will find his way.

“I just felt like this was a moment in which the end was in sight,” she said, “and he could cast his mind forward.”

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