Christine Quesnel knows there’s value in lifelong learning, and also understands how life can get in the way of that lifelong learning. She convocated from Athabasca University (AU) this year in no small part because of the flexibility the university offers.
After completing her bachelor of science in nursing from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., in 1994, she always knew she wanted to go back to school to continue her education. But, as many people will tell you, life’s other responsibilities can get in the way.
“I had always wanted to go back, and then I got married, was working, had three kids, and my husband was busy with his business,” she said.
It was 15 years later in 2009 that Quesnel decided to take a course for nurse prescribers through Athabasca University, and found the experience to be a positive one. She wasn’t certain at that point whether she wanted to pursue a nurse practitioner designation or a master of nursing degree.
The next year in 2010, she registered in the master’s program at Laurentian University, where she worked, on a part-time basis. Before long, she had finished the five required courses and had started her thesis work, when life once again got in the way of her studies.
“As I was about a third of the way into my thesis, I was not feeling well at all. In 2013, I was diagnosed with a breathing condition, idiopathic subglottic tracheal stenosis,” she said. “My airway was basically closing. It was the size of a straw when I was diagnosed.”
Quesnel ended up having major surgery in January 2014; she had no voice for approximately six months and was speaking mostly in whispers for the remainder of that year. During this time, she put her studies and her job on hold while she focused on her health.
Unfortunately, when she returned to continue with her thesis, she discovered one of her key advisors had retired and that her absence would affect her ability to meet time deadlines within the program.
“There was a deadline for completion of my thesis, and I was not able to meet that due to my absence and changes to my thesis committee,” she said.
Quesnel remembered her experience of taking a course at AU as being especially positive, so she looked into AU’s Master of Nursing (MN) program as an option to continue her studies.
“All of my previously completed courses were accepted, and the credits were transferred to AU. I was excited to see that I was able to take teaching-focus courses which were of particular interest to me working as a Laboratory Instructor within a School of Nursing,” she said. “So I applied for the MN with a teaching focus, and I was on my way.”
After starting in the fall of 2017 and completing one course each term, she finished her studies this spring. She said AU’s flexibility—along with the supportive atmosphere provided by her tutors and fellow students—was crucial in helping her to succeed. The course-based master’s degree was also easier to fit into her work and family life.
To all who might be wavering in their commitment to their education, or waffling about whether the time is right for them to go back to school, Quesnel offers one piece of simple advice: you can do it.
“Life happens. You set out with this big, perfect plan, and sometimes you just don’t know what life’s going to throw at you. It doesn’t mean that you will not succeed,” she said. “It might mean that you need to pause, take time to deal with whatever’s going on in your life, and keep moving forward towards the final goal or destination that you were aiming for.”