Health and Healing: Jessica Gervais Fulfils Her Nursing Dreams and Finds Her Own Healing
“Creator opens the doors. It's up to me to walk through it,” says registered nurse Jessica Gervais. She is originally from Piapot First Nation in Regina, Saskatchewan and now lives in the Lower Mainland. She works with the communicable disease team, completing communicable disease investigations as part of public health. She moved her family to BC almost ten years ago looking for a change of scenery, away from her Nation on the prairies, hoping to expand their horizons and find a multicultural experience.
Growing up, she always wanted to be a nurse, but it took some time to get herself on that path. She did a two-year travel and tourism program at Medicine Hat College after high school. She found it wasn’t her passion and as she booked people to go take trips, she wanted to travel herself. A career in tourism turned out to be the wrong destination, but she found her way.
She moved into working as a housekeeper at a long-term care facility and it got her even more interested in healthcare as a profession. She went on to complete a unit clerk certification with high marks. Her roommate who was a nurse encouraged her to keep going in her studies and her uncle agreed. Their words inspired her to pursue the path she had dreamed of since she was younger to become a nurse.
When she was dreaming of becoming a nurse, she was moving around a lot. Gervais is a 60s Scoop survivor who grew up away from her community until her early twenties. When she was taking that tourism program, living in Lethbridge, her uncle reached out to her and brought her back to their community. After she got her unit clerk certification she found work in Whitehorse, then she moved to Regina to get her nursing degree.
Her advice for someone who has never travelled and is about to venture off somewhere for the first time is to just go for it. “I had a lot of uncertainties and nervousness and fears. There were times where I was struggling, but now that I look back on it, I'm so glad I've done that stuff. It was an amazing experience,” she smiles. She met people who helped her along the way, like another unit clerk in Whitehorse who included her on family dinners and trips. Other colleagues would invite her to things as well and helped her get what she needed.
While she feels people have been put on her path to help her, she’s had some bumps along the way. Growing up in a Caucasian home and moving to Regina for school and living with her uncle, she was teased by other people about her lack of experience with Indigenous life. She did some schooling at First Nations University and experienced culture shock and a bit of an identity crisis. Her mother was struggling with residential school trauma and addiction and Gervais had her own mental health challenges with depression.
Counselling was a path she wished she had taken to heal, but she started using substances, drinking and her uncle’s new wife explained about intergenerational trauma and addictions. In her second year of nursing, Gervais dropped out, unable to handle things and she moved back to Lethbridge. After some more traumatic experiences, she hit her rock bottom and reached back out to her family in Regina to get into treatment. After treatment, she got back into school and continued on her path to nursing.
“I needed to have that experience to have that compassion to work with others who suffer with the same kind of stuff.”
Going back to school was a challenge because she ended up pregnant and went into labour the day of her final exam. She missed it and instead of taking a test, she had a c-section instead. A week later, she brought her newborn son to school and wrote her final exam. Thinking about how hard a degree in nursing is, she’s not sure how she got it all done, but Gervais is proud of herself and thankful.
If she could give her younger self advice it would be to reach out more, get some help with her issues and take down the wall she had up that kept her from connecting with others. Going into addictions treatments helped her take down that wall and get vulnerable and honest. Now she has two teenage sons and a nursing career.
In the future, she would like to use her nursing degree to help more Indigenous people, either by working with Indigenous communities or the First Nations Health Authority. “That's where my heart and soul is,” she smiles. She goes to the friendship center and has made Indigenous friends there but she wants to be able to give back more. After learning about the intergenerational impacts of some of the challenges Indigenous people face, she wants to be part of the solution in a meaningful way.
In closing, Jessica Gervais wants to encourage Indigenous youth considering going to school, to go for it. She’s learned that the Creator opens the doors and it's up to her to walk through them. She says, “They'll just keep opening doors for you if you're on the right path. I just really encourage you to chase your dreams, for sure.” On her path through nursing school, she found her own healing. Now she’s chasing her dream to give back to community and help more people heal, too.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.