Second Chances At Success: Megan Parrish’s Hard Work Overcomes Hard Times
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s a common expression but one that has guided Megan Parrish to find her way onto a rewarding education and career path. She has lived in treaty six territory in Edmonton, Alberta for a little over ten years, but comes from treat eight territory, where she grew up in rural Fort St. John. She left her hometown to go to university and she stayed on after graduation.
“It seems like I've been in school forever!” she reflects. She started with a general bachelor science degree at Grant MacEwan University, then transferred into a Bachelors of Science in Medical Laboratory Science program. The first year she applied she was waitlisted but she was determined to get in. She reapplied the next year and got in. While it’s a degree program, she completed her medical laboratory technologist certification as part of her studies.
After completing her bachelors’ degree, she continued with some courses through the School of Public Health, thinking she might pursue a master's degree. When she applied the first time, she did not get in again. After taking some more courses, she reapplied and was accepted. Her thesis focuses on laboratory medicine, health technology and health policy research. Her goal is to have equity for lab testing in remote and rural areas.
As a lab technologist, she worked in different departments including transfusion medicine, providing blood products for people that need transfusions, before transitioning to a new department called point of care testing where she is the supervisor. In that role, she supports testing at patient bedside and other places like the first stroke ambulance in Canada.
The stroke ambulance is an ambulance that is bigger than most and has a mini CT scanner and other testing devices that allow it to travel up to three hours outside of Edmonton, pick up a patient, assess them and treat them where they are. That initiative has sparked Parrish’s interest in making laboratory testing available in communities with less access.
As happy as she is now in her work, not getting into her undergraduate program the first time was hard on her. Her family encouraged her to reapply and when it came to her graduate application, she reached out to others for help. If she could say anything to her younger self, it would be “Don't give up.”
After being turned down for admission to programs and even some jobs, she was upset but she found that the successful opportunities are a better fit and she is much happier. “It's hard when you have rejection or failures. But I think it's a really good opportunity to learn and grow from it and perhaps there will be a better opportunity that comes along,” she says.
That learning experience informs her advice for others who find themselves in similar circumstances. She suggests, “If you apply to something and you don't get in, look for resources; don't get discouraged. I mean, I ended up getting in, and I've been quite successful. It's something that happens, and you just have to overcome it and continue on.”
When it comes to students who are thinking about leaving their home community for work or school, she has some tips as well. “It's tough leaving your community and your loved ones behind, I completely get that. But I think it's also important to remember that there are a lot of other people in the same position when you go somewhere,” she offers.
Connecting with different student groups, getting involved with events and spending time doing wellness activities helped her a lot. Knowing what resources are available and reaching out to them is also something she says can make a difference when you find you need something. “Everyone wants you to succeed,” she shares reassuringly. When she moved to Edmonton, she didn't know anyone and had to make friends and start over socially. Ten years later, she’s still living in the area and has that community.
The other challenge Parrish has faced in her schooling is juggling another important responsibility: parenting. When she was accepted into her master's program, she had a brand new baby and she went back to school full time when he was six months old. Her support system helped with childcare when she needed to go to school or do homework and she even brought her son to school with her when she couldn’t miss class and her childcare was unavailable. Having support in the university helped overcome what can be a huge barrier that many people struggle with.
The work ethic her parents instilled in her and the way they pushed her and supported her throughout her life motivates her to keep going. She’s also inspired to see others overcome limitations and create positive change. The prospect of creating equity for rural areas, providing better access and the way technology is growing also gives her hope. She wants to be a part of that change and the more she learns in school, the more opportunities she has, and those experiences help her keep moving forward.
Maintaining balance as a parent and a student is hard and she has been focused on creating a good work life balance. She used to bring work home with her but found she needed firmer boundaries and separation between work and home so she can spend quality time with her son and husband. Parrish also prioritizes physical activity - she enjoys golfing with her husband and getting fresh air. Being part of communities like the Indigenous Graduate Student Association at the University of Alberta and sitting on the Indigenous Student Council was something she enjoyed. Having people to talk to and connect with was really important for her and helped her stress management and mental wellness.
Because she kept going even after she was turned away by admissions, Megan Parrish is making strides towards creating an impact in rural medicine. While at first she did not succeed, with perseverance she’s learning and growing despite the initial no’s. She’s learned many lessons as part of her degree programs, but the most important one by far was to try and try again.
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.