Terrace, BC -- For Coast Mountain College (CMTN) alumna Mary-Ann Speirs, learning is a journey that never ends.
Mary-Ann was raised in the Gitxsan community of Gitsegukla in a family with eight children. Growing up, she was surrounded by people who she now believes had mental health issues related to both recent and historical trauma. Her experiences gave her a good understanding of what trauma can do to a person and this has helped her inside and outside of her careers.
Mary-Ann feels that being raised in Gitsegukla is both a blessing and an honour, mainly because she can speak her language and has experienced local traditions and ceremonies, such as participating in Feasts. “Not a lot of people can speak Gitxsanimx,” she says, “although that's changing because now it's introduced in school.” Mary-Ann goes on to say that, as a child she was taught to sit still and stay still, a mentality that followed her throughout her life and took a lot of effort to unlearn.
Having quit school after Grade 8, some time later Mary-Ann went back to school to take upgrading courses at CMTN (formerly Northwest Community College) to get the prerequisites needed to enter the Business program. She really liked the upgrading program because there was so much individual attention from both the instructor and her classmates. “If I had a question, somebody would help me understand the answer to it. Nowadays, I use YouTube quite a bit, but you can't get a degree from YouTube,” she laughs. “I prefer in-person learning because I'm more tactile and hands-on and that's how I like to learn.”
Mary-Ann went on to earn a Business Administration diploma from the College, then worked at different jobs in her community for a number of years. Then she and a friend attended an information session held by the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), where a representative explained that they were bringing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to Terrace, in partnership with Coast Mountain College.
Mary-Ann didn't plan to fill out an application for the program, but her friend told her, “Just fill it out and see what happens.” The result… Mary-Ann has been a Registered Nurse for over 13 years, working and learning in different sectors, including day surgery, medical-surgical, homecare, and public health.
A main reason Mary-Ann went to school later in life was because she needed a change. After receiving her business diploma, she thought, “What can I do while my children are still growing up?” Nursing turned out to be a great answer because of its location flexibility and fluidity to work in different areas.
Mary-Ann worked as a public health nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing nasal swabs for about 10 months. Of her experience as a travel public health nurse, she says that it introduces people to lots of different cultures of which they might not have otherwise known. One community in which she worked in was that of Lytton, BC. She was there twice before the 2021 wildfire that destroyed much of the community, and then once afterwards. “It was unbelievable!” Mary-Ann says. “People stayed there and supported each other in various ways. Homecare nurses came from Interior Health and from Kamloops to care for patients.”
Mary-Ann’s advice for people considering going back to school is to tell them it’s like opening a door for themselves. “Forget what people say about how hard it can be and just focus on what you want. Apply for all the bursaries you can get. And if you have savings, I know it's scary, but use them. That's what I did and it was worth it in the end.”
She says, "Going into the health care field is an especially good choice for students right now, because we need you." She adds that "...although there are many workplace opportunities for new graduates everywhere in the country, Terrace and the surrounding areas would love to welcome you."
Asked what she loves best about nursing, Mary-Ann says, “It helps me find out who I am.” She does a lot of self-reflecting, which is one of the nursing standards. “After I do something, I think about how I could have done it better.” It's a skill she uses in everyday life, as well as in nursing.
Outside of work, Mary-Ann is learning to play the violin. She also crochets and embroiders, and enjoys going for walks, camping, and exploring different places. She is a lifelong learner and plans to continue taking courses that appeal to her, long into her retirement.
"Always remember to acknowledge the land in which you are blessed to live, work, study, and play. Thank your family, your friends, and the Creator."
Heather Bastin, Executive Director External Relations
Coast Mountain College