Toyin Bamgbala admits she’s had some options in her life so far, but education wasn’t one of them: she made it mandatory.
Growing up in Nigeria with parents who placed an emphasis on knowledge, and following six older siblings who have nothing less than masters’ degrees, the family’s “baby” was destined for a life of learning.
This month, Bamgbala finishes her second year in the Nursing Education in Southwestern Alberta (NESA) program and is halfway home to a degree that will allow her to fulfil her goal to better the lives of others.
“I’ve always had a passion to be part of people’s lives,” she says. “Nursing allows you to be part of their lives from the cradle to the tomb. Caring is a foundation of nursing and of my own personality. I love working with people.”
And so, after high school and theology studies in Nigeria, Bamgbala set sail for Malaysia where she completed a year of registered nursing training. But Canada’s standard of living and level of education was a strong lure. She discovered the NESA program, which all students enter through two years at Lethbridge College and finish with two years at the University of Lethbridge.
She was able to transfer her Malaysian credits to NESA and enter as a second-year student. She took on a Herculean workload to catch up to classmates, despite gentle advice from an advisor concerned she might falter academically. Instead, she is at the top of her class with a near-perfect grade point average.
Her instructors have been impressed, Tracey Forster among them. “I absolutely enjoyed having her in my class,” says Forster, who taught Bamgbala clinicals in labour and delivery and some theory. “Being an international student always has its challenges, but she exuded confidence and participated in discussions and communicated easily. Her natural inquisitiveness was a big asset to her learning.”
English is the national language of Nigeria (the product of a strong British influence in the 19th century), so Bamgbala learned it as a child and speaks it perfectly. Lethbridge College and Chinook Regional Hospital where she does her practicum have been welcoming, a relief to her after facing some discrimination in Malaysia.
“People here look at my qualifications, not my skin colour,” she says. “They just want to see that you know what you’re doing. I don’t look for discrimination, so I don’t find any. I think it’s important to note that I’ve felt welcome here.”
Arriving in July 2009, Bamgbala also had the opportunity to ease into winter, a season she claims to enjoy, although she was warned about the cold by her college dean in Malaysia. She has enjoyed a Lethbridge Hurricanes game, and, although it’s Swiss by origin, not Canadian, has been fascinated by fondue.
Skype and email have kept her in touch with her family – her siblings, three of whom are nurses, are spread around the world – whom she credits with her accomplishments. “My family is my greatest motivation,” says Bamgbala. “If I am a success, it is because I am loved and because I have people who believe in me. I have a responsibility not to disappoint them.
“I believe that with hard work, determination and faith, anything is possible.” The NESA curriculum and the instructional style at Lethbridge College has impressed her because it encourages critical thinking and lifelong learning.
“An instructor told me I won’t just finish this program and drop my books,” she says. “I value that part of the program; I know I made the right choice to come here. My practicum at Chinook Regional Hospital also stresses critical thinking and an application of ethics. You have a chance to affect the whole person, not just follow rules like a robot.”
The college’s SPHERE (Simulated Patient Health Environment for Research and Education) allowed her to discover her own abilities and gain feedback from colleagues while working on a human patient simulator “without the fear I would kill a patient.”
Nursing, she says, will offer her a different set of decisions to be made daily, and her learning will never be completed. She wants to practise in Lethbridge because she says she believes in working close to where she obtained her education.
“Education is the greatest way you can empower a person,” says Bamgbala. “Every day you are responsible for your own improvement. From my parents, I got the drive to be my best and to shoot for nothing less.
“If I have the resources, I will be learning until I die.”