For Denika McPherson, returning to walk across the stage at Convocation Hall this month in front of family and loved ones was an opportunity to celebrate not only her degree, but their support during some of the most challenging years of her time as a nurse.
McPherson graduated from the University of Toronto’s Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing in 2021 with a master of nursing degree. As a student, she worked as a critical care nurse in a large GTA hospital at the height of the pandemic. In 2021, she shared with Bloomberg Nursing some reflections on that stressful time including how she managed her studies and her mental health, as she prepared to graduate virtually.
Being able to return in person and celebrate also fosters a sense of community, a good reason to come together under more positive circumstances, given all that she and her fellow nursing peers have experienced in recent years, McPherson says. It is also a moment to demonstrate the importance of representation, she adds.
“Attending the in-person ceremony is important because representation and diversity, equity and inclusion of historically marginalized or excluded groups matters. I hope others seeing me cross the stage are inspired,” says McPherson.
Dhivya Eapen, who also graduated in 2021 with a master of nursing degree, says she knew she needed to return for the in-person celebrations; it offered the chance to reconnect with peers and faculty, many of whom she only saw virtually towards the end of her program – and to celebrate this personal achievement with family and friends.
Eapen had just one term left to complete her degree when the pandemic took hold. She shared with Bloomberg Nursing in 2021 what that was like juggling the shift to online learning while caring for an infant and helping her older children navigate virtual schooling. While she also bore witness to the burnout facing her colleagues and clinical instructors during her placement, she focused on “knowing her why.”
“The primary thing for me, was to press on, keep going, and know my why. Why am I doing this, why am I a nurse? And to keep coming back to that,” says Eapen. “I feel honoured to be a part of these celebrations this week, that were paused but not passed over because of COVID pandemic restrictions.”
Now on maternity leave, Eapen is looking forward to returning to her clinical practice and continuing her education in the area of leadership to improve quality of care and caring for carers, both health-care workers and nursing students alike. Eapen is an alumni representative for the Bloomberg Nursing Faculty council.
McPherson, meanwhile, says she is tremendously proud to be a member of the U of T alumni community. Since her graduation she has been using her leadership capacity to engage students through mentorship both at the Faculty of Nursing and through the Summer Mentorship program with the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. Her work keeps her busy, but she still finds time to contribute to making the nursing workforce a better place for future nurses, most recently as a stakeholder contributor to the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, and the Business and Higher Education Roundtable for diversity, equity, and inclusion in work-integrated learning.
As for the future, McPherson reflects on the book How Will You Measure Your Life?
“Our class persevered through a demanding program and a demanding profession at the height of a global pandemic,” says McPherson. “I firmly believe that what lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”