Vanity Thompson has dreamed of becoming a nurse ever since she was a young girl.
It's a dream that stayed with the Dartmouth, N.S., woman even after she dropped out of high school, became pregnant at 17, struggled with depression and became involved in an abusive relationship.
"I dealt with a lot of mental, emotional and physical abuse during that time, so to go to school ... it was really, really challenging," Thompson told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Friday.
Still, Thompson didn't give up. She was desperate to become a nurse, so she enrolled in the Nova Scotia Community College's African Canadian Transition Program — now known as the Africentric Learning Option — to obtain her high school diploma.
At first, Thompson said she was in and out of the program, continuing to struggle with her mental health, abuse and poverty.
Despite this, Jill Provoe, the former head of the program, refused to give up on Thompson. Provoe once said she didn't care if she had to accept Thompson into the program 1,000 times, she knew the student could do it.
"From the day I met her, she was focused on being a nurse," said Provoe, who is now the acting vice-president academic at NSCC.
"Vanity is an exceptional person, and it was just about finding the right time and the right space for her to really shine as she is now."
Thompson, 33, said she's grateful that Provoe took her under her wing.
"She taught me that as Black women, we all have pain," said Thompson. "It's what you do with that pain and how you challenge that pain, [is] how you become successful."
And that's exactly what she did. Thompson graduated from the program in 2013, which was just the first step in achieving her dream to become a nurse.
She still had a long way to go, which was put off further after she and her now husband — whom she met while in the program — became pregnant the following year.
"I had planned to go right back to school, but of course, life likes to throw you curveballs," she said.
"My daughter had some challenges with her health. She had a seizure disorder [and] she was in the hospital, so that really prevented me from being able to jump right back in to go back to school."
But Thompson knew she had to keep going, especially with a growing family.
"I decided that enough is enough. I can't sit on my behind and I can't cry, because I have a child with health issues," she said.
"I have to get up and I have to go there and I have to get what I want. I have to take what I want. So that's exactly what I did."
She soon returned to NSCC's Ivany Campus in Dartmouth to study in the practical nursing diploma program.
Thompson said it took countless all-nighters, studying for multiple tests every week, and preparing for clinical courses while also being a wife and mother — but it was all worth it.
Provoe continued to be there for Thompson.
"You go on these journeys with students, you feel the emotion with them, and she did this … this is Vanity," Provoe said.
"She faced her challenges and she overcame [them]. She is so strong and powerful and resilient. It just meant the world to me to watch her reach this goal."
Thompson officially graduated in 2020 — achieving her dream job just as the COVID-19 pandemic was getting underway.
Nursing on the COVID-19 front lines
Thompson said her class was one of the first classes to graduate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That's all I know in this nursing world. We had job offers offered to us before we were even on the ground," she said.
Thompson said she first started working for the Victorian Order of Nurses, which was a great learning experience, but as the COVID-19 pandemic caused nursing shortages, she couldn't manage the overtime required with four children.
She then started working in the COVID-19 ward of the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.
"It was absolutely great. It was humbling. It was awesome," she said, adding that it could also be draining.
Nearly two years into the pandemic, Thompson is working as a swabber with Switch Health, a new company that works with the government to offer COVID-19 testing at airports and their Dartmouth clinic.
More dreams to come
Although Thompson has achieved her dream of becoming a licensed practical nurse, she's not stopping there. She's hoping to become a registered nurse, so she's already taking prerequisite courses at Dalhousie University.
She also wants to one day open a sober living facility for Black and Indigenous people with her husband, who is studying to become a social worker.
Thompson said she's grateful to everyone who believed in her, especially as she made her way through school.
"It's really, really challenging, but in the end, they say in school, 'Trust the process,'" she said. "And that's just what you have to do."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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