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‘People First’ at the centre of Nurse’s passion for health care

Jessica Southgate

Going back to school to start a new career at the age of 34 presented some advantages for Jessica Southgate.

“Life experience for sure,” said Jessica, who graduated from Practical Nursing at Assiniboine’s Parkland campus in 2019, of the benefit to being a mature student changing careers. That, and a solid confidence in the commitment she was making.

I knew really strongly for a number of years prior that this is what I wanted to do, so it’s easy to study for something you love.

Before enrolling in college, Jessica was a professional dancer, working for several different Canadian dance companies, and worked part-time as a certified health care aide to subsidize that income. Now, as she launches her new career as a nurse, she sees this experience as another bonus.

“It can really change from day to day, sometimes even hour to hour I find. But I knew going into it that it would be like that, I think. Because I was an aide before, I was ready for those ups and downs. I find it manageable.”

Originally from Prince Rupert, B.C., she spent the first part of her adult life in her home province before life brought her to Winnipeg. She moved to Dauphin when she was accepted into Practical Nursing at Assiniboine’s Parkland campus. While there were benefits to her return to post-secondary, there were also transitional challenges.

“Just being out of school for those number of years, the first few months were certainly an adjustment getting into the swing of things,” said Jessica. Along with her determination, she credits her instructors with helping her over that hump.

“They were really encouraging and helpful, giving us study habits and guides and things that help with stress management,” she said. “I found that really helpful as well as the fact that we had smaller class sizes. We got that one-to-one if we needed it.”

Jessica currently works at the Roblin Health Centre, after starting her nursing career in personal care homes and transitional care in Birtle and Russell.

“I like feeling that I’ve really done something when I go home for the day. Not every day necessarily, but you get to actually change a life and get to really help somebody and see that. It’s so tangible,” she said. “I also really enjoy the palliative care process and the process of helping people die and going through that with families and the individual.”

Jessica knew going into nursing that she had an interest in palliative care and says she had the opportunity to be involved in a few deaths during her practical clinical portion of the program. “It sounds so morbid and awful, but being able to give people a good death — that really always stands out for me,” she said. “Just being able to kind of help in that aspect and keep them as comfortable and peaceful as I can.

“It sounds weird to say, but there are good deaths and bad deaths.”

Jessica also gives credit to her instructors for showcasing the sort of passion it takes to make an impact in the health care field.

“They pulled on a lot of personal experience for us, which helped make what we were studying real. That was really helpful, just to have people that really cared about the profession and were also strong patient advocates.” And now, she sees the basis of these teachings translating into her own career.

“A highlight for me now is advocating for people,” she said. “Your priority is first and foremost the welfare of the patient and maintaining what they want — trying to work with your patients to find and meet their goals.”