Getting Better Together: Mary Dollard’s Journey into Population and Public Health
“I really wanted to find something where I could just help people,” Mary Dollard explains, contemplating how the profession of nursing drew her in after working many different types of jobs. Dollard is currently on a break from work to obtain a Master of Science at the Indigenous population health program at SFU. The program is a collaboration with the First Nations Health Authority.
In her nursing life, she has worked in population and public health, with the communicable disease team. She considers herself a late bloomer when it comes to education, completing her nursing degree in 2019, sixteen years after graduating high school. She did a pre-program and an LPN diploma along the way. Her career path as a nurse has been atypical because she’s never actually worked in a hospital. She has always worked out of an office and she enjoys the opportunity to connect with people and answer their questions.
Dollard lives in the Lower Mainland where she was raised. Her dad is from Victoria and her mom is a First Nations woman from northern BC, about two and a half hours northwest of Prince George. As the only one of her siblings to graduate high school, she loved learning and her parents encouraged her to continue to post-secondary.
She got into healthcare because she saw ongoing employment opportunities and she wanted to work with people who were happy to be helped and have the chance to give back through caring. She started off doing general studies in college before her LPN program and the work she did after that was helping seniors remain independent in their homes through support with daily living tasks. With long waitlists to complete prerequisites to get into the registered nursing program, it took some time but she got there.
Growing up, her mom tried to help her stay in touch with her traditions even though they were far from her home community. At the time, not much was taught in school about Indigenous issues and only recently has she had the chance to learn more in her post-secondary programming. Respect for her elders was a value her mother instilled in her, which shines through in her work with the elderly as she practices respect, care and compassion.
While she grew from the values she learned from her parents, coming from a family that didn’t have post-secondary experience was a barrier for her. The lack of familiarity made schooling and entering the workforce intimidating. She was fortunate to have their emotional and practical support, but she didn’t really know what she was in for with nobody to prepare her. “It was just scary and unknown and not knowing what to expect or what was coming,” she recalls.
“Keep on trying and keep on being open to new experiences. You never know where it's going to take you. Don't forget about your family.”
Her advice for students like her who are first-generation post-secondary students is to connect with the supports that are available like Indigenous student centre, counsellors, and elders. She knows how being in a situation with so many new experiences and so much to learn can be overwhelming. “Even though it feels like you're the only one going through all of this chaos alone, a lot of other students are feeling the same way, even if they're not coming from the exact same situation,” she advises, suggesting students make new friends, find social groups to study with and peer support from people in their program.
If she could give her younger self advice it would be to learn her limits and not procrastinate so much. She wishes she could have practiced time management skills earlier to have a less chaotic school experience. “Sometimes you think you've got it all under control and then the last couple of weeks of school comes in. It's not fun,” she remembers.
To take care of herself, she’s had to learn that it’s okay to pause, take a break and recharge when your batteries are running low. She has a family and three pets and lives across from a beautiful forest. Dollard likes to walk in nature to calm down, clear her head, reduce her stress and get away from it all. She’s been working on building consistency with regular movement, whether it’s walking or yoga, and also spending time listening to music. It’s a way she creates space in her mind, tuning out the noise around her and tuning into the music and the moment to be more mindful.
When she’s looking for inspiration to keep going, she looks to her daughter and thinks about being a good role model for her by doing the right thing and having a good attitude. Dollard knows that her daughter is watching her and she wants to show her a positive example. Her family encourages her too, and there are a lot of them. Her grandparents had 17 kids, with 8 still living, so there are lots of aunties and uncles to encourage her. Her education program is inspiring her, too.
She wanted to find a way to help people, and she found nursing. Mary Dollard blazed a trail in her family as the first to go to university and now she’s helping forge a new path towards better Indigenous health outcomes. With her family’s values and her university lessons, she’s becoming the best nurse and mom she can be, in hopes of creating change so her people will start to feel a lot better.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
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.