UniSC Fraser Coast Nursing Science graduate

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Sometimes it just takes one small step to gain the degree and career that you hoped for, as new UniSC Fraser Coast Nursing Science graduate Theresa Byrnes discovered.

But when you have not finished high school and are the first in your family to go to university, it also requires a leap of faith and the realisation that there are many pathways to study success.

Theresa, 40, who once believed she was “perhaps too old and not smart enough for university”, graduated from the University of the Sunshine Coast this month with a degree in Nursing Science – along with a medal for her outstanding academic results.

Theresa’s decision to ‘take that first step’ led to her securing a place in the WBHHS Graduate Nurse Program, where she is currently completing her first rotation at the Maryborough Emergency Department.

It is a long way from her first job as a retail trainee selling crystals, and later working on a whale-watching vessel, as a dental assistant, and for several years as an estimator with a local concrete reinforcing firm.

“There was always something missing,” Theresa said. “I enjoyed my work, but I longed for challenges, more connection and personal satisfaction.

“I had a love of learning, but high school wasn’t the best environment for me, and I never thought I was smart enough to go to university.”

It took discovering some of the alternative routes to university – particularly UniSC’s Tertiary Preparation Pathway – to help Theresa on her way and in the process, find self-belief and confidence.

“While on maternity leave with my youngest daughter I enrolled in a Certificate 3 in Fitness at TAFE and discovered I excelled in anatomy and physiology,” she said.

“It was then I realised that I was a tad smarter than I thought but I had hesitations. Was I too old? How was I going to manage work, study and family life?

“But the seed was planted and after almost five years of procrastinating, preparing and lots of research, I nervously applied to UniSC’s Tertiary Preparation Program with the hope of continuing into nursing.

“As someone who didn’t complete high school and being the first person in my family to attend university, it was hands down one of the best decisions of my life.

At graduation, those efforts were recognised with a Medal for Academic Excellence for achieving a final cumulative Grade Point Average of 6.7 out of 7, and another prestigious honour – a Student Leadership award.

Now her focus is on “another steep learning curve” – working as a graduate registered nurse.

“The highlight of this experience so far is getting to work with, and be supported by, an amazing team of experienced nurses in a great department,” she said.

An extended version of Theresa’s story can here read at Theresa finds university dream is possible ‘no matter what stage of life’ | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia (usc.edu.au)