For Harpreet Dhaliwal, becoming a Nursing Unit Clerk was much more than a career choice. It was her dream. She had to keep this dream on hold for more than a decade to fulfill her duties as a wife, daughter, sister, and mother. Eleven years later, she achieved the success that was hers.
A life-changing decision
Harpreet was only 20 years old when she married her husband. At the time, she was living in India with her family and was dedicated to her education. Harpreet was pursuing a Bachelor of Science and was a top-performing student in her class. She had one more year left before graduation when the proposal for an arranged marriage came her way.
“I was from a lower than middle-class family in India. I was the eldest of three children and wanted to pursue my studies in Canada. Somebody knew my husband’s family and our family. They arranged for us to meet and it was a totally, fully arranged marriage. We were married in a month and then my husband, who was from Canada, sponsored me to immigrate,” Harpreet recalled. Being married meant Harpreet had to pause her educational pursuit. She did not finish her undergraduate degree, but the trade-off was worth it. Harpreet was excited to start her new life with her husband in Canada and was hoping this would mean she could provide for her family back home.
As Harpreet settled into her new life, she realized there was so much to adjust to and soon, the pause began turning into a stop. She started working in a warehouse when Harpreet and her husband welcomed their first child into the world, which was a pleasant detour from her plans. She did not see this as an impediment to her goal of helping her parents immigrate to Canada.
“I was scared. My brain was rewired to think only about my kids, groceries, gas, and family. That’s when my sister told me, ‘Remember you used to be a brilliant student back home. Just remember that and it’ll all come back to you.’”
Within two months of delivering her baby boy, Harpreet returned to her job. She needed that job to help her husband with their family’s expenses. Soon, a better opportunity came her way, one that could help her support her parents’ immigration to Canada. She was hired as labeller by a company that made nutrients for plants. “I remember I used to go to my manager every day and cry. I really needed to become a permanent employee so I could bring my family here,” Harpreet recalled as she teared up remembering those tough moments.
The final push
For someone so giving and caring as Harpreet, working at the warehouse was only a minor sacrifice. She was able to bring her family to Canada about four years ago, which made up for all her compromises. After working at the nutrient company for five years years, Harpreet and her husband wanted to expand their family. But working in a nutrients warehouse was interfering with her ability to get pregnant, which meant Harpreet had to quit. Soon after, she had her baby girl and then began working at a fastfood chain.
“I knew I deserved much more than working at a fast-food restaurant. Every day I would think, ‘This is not where I belong.’ When my mom saw me working there she cried and told me, ‘This is not you. This is not what I wanted for you when I sent you to Canada. I want better for you.’”
This encouragement from her family gave Harpreet the final push. It was time to bring her dreams and aspirations to the forefront. While she was working at the warehouse, she had taken English classes and finished her Dogwood Diploma. She was prepared to take any challenge and tackle it head-on. When she initially began researching careers that would suit her, she short-listed Nursing Unit Clerk (NUC).
“Becoming a NUC always used to be my goal. I had always wanted to work in the medical field but I didn’t want to deal with patients. When I was researching about what I could do about 10 years ago, my heart set on this career but life kept pulling me here and there.”
“I used to lock myself in my room for like five hours every day. I would go home, cook food and do everything I was supposed to do and then lock myself in my room and study”
Although she couldn’t pursue it at that time, she helped her younger sister become a NUC. When the time came to realize her dreams, she knew that Nursing Unit Clerk was the way to go. “I told my husband, I am going to do this and I wasn’t going to work any odd jobs, anymore.” Harpreet’s husband supported her decision because he knew she could do anything she set her mind to.
Stepping out of her comfort zone
The only obstacle in Harpreet’s way now was her fear. The last time Harpreet was in school full-time was 11 years ago. All her education for under graduation was in math, physics and chemistry. She had never studied biology. “When I saw the medical terminology book, I was shocked,” Harpreet laughed. “I was scared. My brain was rewired to think only about my kids, groceries, gas, and family. That’s when my sister told me, ‘Remember you used to be a brilliant student back home. Just remember that and it’ll all come back to you.’”
And Harpreet did just that. She overcame her fear of going back to school. Harpreet contacted her Program Advisor at Stenberg and booked an appointment to begin her enrollment. As part of the process, she had to take a typing test. At the time, Harpreet was intimidated by using computers and could only type 22 words per minute during her entrance test. Harpreet didn’t know that within 40 weeks she would be typing 52 words per minute.
She started the NUC diploma program at Stenberg in September 2018 and poured all her determination and will into succeeding in the program. With support from her mother-in-law in looking after her children, Harpreet devised a study method that worked for her. “I used to lock myself in my room for like five hours every day. I would go home, cook food and do everything I was supposed to do and then lock myself in my room and study”
Harpreet shared her secret. She had been an overachiever in education all her life and she wanted to replicate her success in undergrad at Stenberg.
At first glance, Harpreet may come across as a shy and reserved person but her desire to succeed is unwavering. She would stay back after class to practice typing or consult her instructors about topics she didn’t quite understand, particularly biology. “The one-on-one support I got from my instructor, Wendy Scott, was amazing! I would sit after class with her and talk to her about my challenges and practice with her,” she recalled.
Along with her instructors, Harpreet credits her classmates for her success in the program as well. “My classmates were very supportive. I am not great with technology and my classmates would help me out with preparing slideshows and were always there to help.”
Trading fear for confidence
Within a couple of weeks into the program, Harpreet was already feeling accomplished and knew she was on the right track. She let go of any inhibitions and started speaking up in class for herself and sometimes even for her classmates. Wendy Scott, Nursing Unit Clerk Instructor at Stenberg College described Harpreet as a “standout student who was an obvious leader”.
“I wanted my dream job. I waited 11 years to do it but I am proud to be a Nursing Unit Clerk today.”
Adjusting into a new schedule at school was easy for Harpreet. The biggest challenge she faced was at her first practicum experience at St. Paul’s Hospital. Having never worked in health care, Harpreet was nervous. “My heart was pounding on the first day of practicum. I had so many questions, ‘What was my preceptor going to be like?’, ‘Will I fit in?’, ‘What if I make a mistake?’.” Harpreet recalled the moment she set foot into her practicum site. After she met her preceptor, Harpreet calmed her nerves and said to herself, “I know this, I’m prepared for this, I can do this.”
Harpreet outshined the expectations set for her at both the practicums. She went beyond her limits to deliver the tasks assigned to her and because of her hard work, she was hired on a permanent, full-time line at Richmond Hospital right at practicum. Currently, Harpreet is working in the surgical unit at Richmond Hospital as a Nursing Unit Clerk and the best part of her career is the feeling of appreciation, which was missing at her previous jobs. “When I walk into the unit, I feel so good. Everybody’s so nice and I feel so happy and fulfilled from within. This is what I wanted, and this is what I’m doing right now and that completes me.”
It took Harpreet 11 years to feel complete and fulfilled. While many others would give up on their dreams, Harpreet clung to them. She made her dream the motivation to overcome all the struggles in her life and a reason to overcome hardships. “I wanted my dream job. I waited 11 years to do it but I am proud to be a Nursing Unit Clerk today.” Her piece of advice for women like her who have an unfulfilled dream is, “It’s never too late.” ❉