Jessica Locke overcomes challenges, finds path with nursing

Practical nursing student finds calling through helping her ailing father

For much of her life, George Brown College (GBC) practical nursing student Jessica Locke’s story was one familiar to many young Canadians. She grew up, went away to Ottawa for school, and graduated from Carlton University with a degree in communications.

She hoped to get a job in public relations to make use of her degree, but that could wait a little while. First she was going to see the world. Then everything changed, and her life took a very different direction.

“I was already finished school, I was backpacking in Asia and I got a call,” said Locke. “I got a call in Asia from my mother and (she said) my father had been hospitalized, he had a fall.”

It was worse than just a fall. Locke’s father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and was no longer capable of caring for himself. Her mother had to work, so Locke shouldered much of the responsibility of caring for him.

“I guess my life was on hold for about two years,” she said. “There’s a long waiting list for nursing homes.”

Most people would struggle with this difficult responsibility, but Locke rose to the challenge.

“I took care of him for two years, he was in and out of the hospital for lengthy stays with delirium. He had congestive heart failure, had a few conditions,” Locke said.

Not only did she rise to the task, she found that she flourished in it.

“So in that process, I said ‘hey I kind of like what I’m doing, I’m researching enough about his medications and going to all his appointments,’ I decided to do a pathway to nursing,” said Locke. “It was definitely not planned, not at all.”

In 2015, Locke applied to George Brown’s practical nursing degree program, and began her classes while still caring for her father. Balancing two full-time responsibilities left her with little time for paid work, but with student loan and grants from GBC, she managed.

“I was fortunate enough to get OSAP, and my marks were pretty decent, so I did get a couple awards, a couple bursaries, so I was fortunate in that sense,” said Locke.

Now in her second year and with her father being professionally cared for, Locke has enough time to work as a peer leader, helping other students in her program get to where she is.

And, make no mistake, she has a bright future ahead of her. Locke is currently applying for three-year bridge programs that will make her a registered nurse, with high hopes of a productive career at a hospital in the greater Toronto area.

Locke has found a supporter in Cindy Gouveia, GBC Foundation president. In a letter on George Brown website, Gouveia wrote, “I have complete confidence she will be an incredible nurse, able to help other families like hers face the unthinkable, with kindness and compassion.”

For other people thinking about following in her footsteps and pursuing nursing, Locke has sage advice.

“It’s never too late, there’s always hope, if you see yourself in the career of nursing and you truly want it, give it a try. It’s definitely not for everybody but with hard work and determination you can pretty much do most things, nursing included.”

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Jessica Locke overcomes challenges, finds path with nursing