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Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

3 December 2021

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A life-changing experience

As a child, JCU Nursing Student Zolita Cook spent many hours in hospital due to hereditary spherocytosis. Although her poor health was a source of struggle, the support and care that she received from nurses and doctors made all the difference to Zolita. Now, as a nursing student, she is seeking to make the same difference to her future patients.

Zolita’s experience of spherocytosis was not a straightforward one. “When I was five, I started getting all these different pains and symptoms and they were becoming quite severe,” she says. “For two years, my dad took me to lots of appointments, but the doctors kept saying I was a hypochondriac. It wasn’t until they did a certain blood test and an ultrasound that they discovered I had hereditary spherocytosis.”

Spherocytosis is a condition where red blood cells are destroyed earlier than normal (also known as hemolytic anemia). Signs and symptoms can include fatigue, anemia, gallstones or the enlargement of the spleen. Unfortunately for Zolita, she experienced all of these symptoms and still suffers from fatigue and anemia.

“I had an enlarged spleen and gallstones in my gallbladder. The stones were so big by that point that they couldn’t remove them. So, I ended up having both my spleen and my gallbladder taken out. If I had been diagnosed earlier, the symptoms wouldn’t have been so severe,” Zolita says.

During this difficult time, the work of her doctors and nurses was a lifeline for Zolita. “The health professional team supported me in so many ways,” she says. “It had such an impact on me. It made me feel like that’s my calling, too — helping people who are in a vulnerable state or who feel like they can’t help themselves. I was once in that state, and ever since then I’ve been passionate about helping those going through similar experiences.”

Becoming a nurse

Now in her second year of study, Zolita is pursuing that calling.

“I did a bit of research on JCU and heard great feedback from the nursing students. I did have the option of doing TAFE to become an enrolled nurse or going to CQU to become a registered nurse, but I chose JCU because they focus on building your knowledge of the science and biology that are so integral to nursing,” Zolita says.

“Before I started nursing, I knew that nurses take care of patients. But when I actually studied, I discovered it was so much more. We learn so many facets of health and the body; it was a real eye-opener for me.”

Her studies have given her the in-depth knowledge that she sought, along with diverse experience in the health sector. “Being on placement, you get great firsthand experience of what you’ll be working with throughout your career,” Zolita says. “JCU Nursing isn’t just studying and writing essays. You’re doing the real thing, taking care of real patients and learning about different disorders, disease treatments and medications.”

In addition to the knowledge and skills that Zolita has developed so far during her degree, she says there are three lessons she has learned that have enhanced her study experience.

“The first is time management — that’s an obvious one and so important to pin down,” she says. “The second is to find your own groove. For me that meant experimenting with weekly content such as readings and revision and finding what time of day worked best for me to study and for how long. Find what works best for you and make the most of it.

“The third is playtime. It’s simple, but so important. Make sure to take time out for yourself so that when it’s time to study or work, you’re ready for it.”

“JCU Nursing isn’t just studying and writing essays. You’re doing the real thing, taking care of real patients and learning about different disorders, disease treatments and medications.”

JCU Nursing Student Zolita Cook

J.C.U. Lecturer and student working together.
J.C.U. Student Zolita Cook.
Right: JCU Nursing Student Zolita Cook.

Excitement for the future

As Zolita pursues her calling, she holds a clear ethos to prepare her for her future career: try everything.

“I want to be a nurse who is always working to become more,” she says. “I want to learn everything that I can and take every opportunity for growth available to me. During my studies and throughout my future career, I want to always be improving my skills and gaining further knowledge.”

Though she is only in the second year of her degree, Zolita is hoping to be able to take this determination into all areas of a hospital or clinical setting. “With those different skill sets and types of knowledge, you can have diversity in your work. You can go from paediatrics to cardiac to ICU. Prioritising professional development means you can increase the scope of your practice.”

To those who are considering pursuing nursing, Zolita has advice similar to her own determined attitude and that reflects her childhood experiences. “My advice is to make sure you have the passion for this job. And that you have compassion for the people you are going to be helping. It isn’t an easy job, for sure, but that passion and compassion will help you stay committed.

“You’re always capable of succeeding and improving — probably more than you think you are. Don’t put limits on yourself or stop yourself from pursuing your passion. Trust that as you persevere and you seek out opportunities to grow, you will grow.”

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