Full-circle moment for graduate, back in class teaching nursing | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Full-circle moment for graduate, back in class teaching nursing

Completing a university degree was “unheard of” in Emily Nicol’s extended family. Studying a university subject while still at high school was also not the norm. So she decided to do both.

UniSC Associate Lecture in Nursing Emily Nicol

Now an Associate Lecturer in Nursing Science at the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Fraser Coast campus and working as a Registered Nurse in critical care, Mrs Nicol says she has come full circle since being one of the first students at Gympie High to enrol in UniSC’s Headstart program.

“At the time, having the opportunity through Headstart to complete university-level study while still at school was a new concept, but I decided to take up the challenge in Year 11 and enrolled in a first-year Nursing Science subject at UniSC’s Gympie campus,” she said.

“I come from a low socioeconomic background, most of our family did not graduate high school, let alone complete a degree. That was unheard of.” 

The Headstart program offered so many insights and showed me I could do this. It was a tough learning curve, but it was inspirational. I was the first in my family to go to university.”

She never anticipated that one day she would return to UniSC to lecture other students.

"I now have the pleasure of teaching that same first-year course I completed as a Headstart student. Though my teaching, I also get to share with students my skills and real-world insights gained through my work in emergency nursing and previous rural nursing experience.”

A lightbulb moment during a shift at a local hospital inspired Mrs Nicol to expand her career focus to include lecturing and to also undertake post-graduate study.

“I was teaching a new graduate nurse a skill and realised I enjoyed influencing the next generation of nurses,” she said.

“Clinically, I get to care for vulnerable patients and educate the wider community, and academically I get to support students to do their best – it is the best combination.”

Currently studying a Master of Nursing in Acute Care, Mrs Nicol has plans to complete a PhD that will investigate ways to support students and other registered nurses to uphold patient safety through the clinical placement journey.

UniSC Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Helen Bartlett, said Mrs Nicol’s journey from Headstart student to lecturer proved the power of self-belief – and the transformative opportunities offered by regional universities.

“In communities across our campuses, our focus is on creating opportunities for those from regional and remote locations and disadvantaged backgrounds to realise their ambitions through participating and succeeding in university study,” Professor Bartlett said.

“Over 40 percent of our students at UniSC are the first in their family to attend university. Like Mrs Nicol, they can create new futures, inspire others and, as UniSC graduates, give back to their communities in many ways.”

Media enquiries: Please contact the Media Team media@usc.edu.au