Joanne Stefanaras says she can thank her children for giving her the motivation to chase her dreams.
The Springfield Lakes mother-of-three graduated from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) last month, delivering a valedictory speech to her peers.
Ms Stefanaras, who is now working at the Ipswich Hospital, credits her children with her success, particularly her oldest daughter Jazmin, who ended up as a USQ study partner.
“Before I started university three years ago, I was worried that I wasn’t cut out for it and that I was too old to go back to school,” she said.
“I couldn’t remember the last time I wrote an assignment or did an exam, but my kids believed in me and wanted me to follow my heart.
“It was a big learning curve and I’m glad I did it because it was one of the best decisions I have made.
“There’s no way I could have achieved what I have without the support I’ve had from my family, USQ and work. They all have supported me every step of the way.”
Becoming a nurse never crossed Ms Stefanaras’ mind when she was younger, but she was inspired by the nurses who cared for her late father during his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 15 years ago.
She focused on raising her three children, Jazmin, 20, Jada, 14, and Levi, 7, while working part-time as a pharmacy dispense technician, before enrolling in a Bachelor of Nursing at USQ, six months after Jazmin started her education degree.
Despite undertaking different degrees at different USQ campuses – Joanne at Ipswich and Jazmin at Springfield – the pair studied together often and leaned on each other for support.
“I faced a number of challenges, but to have Jaz there to bounce ideas off or ask for advice was huge for me,” she said.
“Being able to share my university journey with her has made it even more memorable.”
During her time at USQ, she completed hundreds of hours of clinical experience in a variety of settings, which allowed her to build her confidence and passion for the field.
For the past two years, she has been working as an Assistant in Nursing and an undergraduate student in nursing at the Ipswich Hospital, and is thriving in the highly-supportive environment that the hospital and her management has provided for her.
Ms Stefanaras said a highlight of her degree was a clinical placement in northern Vietnam, where she spent three weeks traveling from hospitals in Hanoi and Mai Chau, to mobile clinics in rural communities.
“Vietnam was a life changing experience,” she said.
“Seeing the difference in healthcare available to people in some of the remote communities we visited was the biggest shock. Many of the patients we treated don’t have access to crucial services and have never even seen a doctor.”
While graduating from university at the age of 44 is a great achievement, Ms Stefanaras said nothing would make her prouder than to see Jazmin cross the graduation stage next year.
“I’m really happy to see her doing well at uni and glad she has found an interest in a career where she can help young kids,” she said.