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Monique finds her purpose

Gympie teenager Monique Johns is turning her life experiences into inspiration for her future, with 17-year-old seizing the opportunity to develop her skills and find the path that’s right for her.

Gympie teenager Monique Johns is turning her life experiences into inspiration for her future, with 17-year-old seizing the opportunity to develop her skills and find the path that’s right for her.

Having grown up surrounded by strong women in the health care field — from her mother (an endorsed enrolled nurse) and her grandmother (an assistant in nursing), to her aunt (a clinical nurse) and her sister (an assistant in nursing who is training to be a paramedic), it comes as no surprise that Monique was drawn towards a career caring for others — she just wasn’t sure what that looked like for her.

But after tragedy struck her family, Monique found herself more determined than ever to find her purpose, using the experience as inspiration. 

“Aside from having always been passionate about wanting to help others, it was losing my brother that made me choose to do individual support, as a stepping stone into a nursing career,” Monique said.

“Lachlan spent the last moments of his life in hospital — a bit under two weeks — and the nurses, doctors and counsellors were all so supportive and comforting when we found out about his brain damage. We lost him around the time of a COVID outbreak, so the restrictions were tightened, but when it came time for us to say goodbyes they were very accommodating.”

Having struggled with her mental health following her brother’s passing, Monique was keen to take a more proactive approach to her future. With this in mind she finished school in Year 11 and enrolled in TAFE Queensland’s Skills for Education and Employment program in 2021 to help boost her literacy and numeracy skills before commencing a Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing) (CHC33015) at TAFE Queensland’s Gympie campus a month later.

The SEE program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment, and provides eligible job seekers with up to 650 hours of free language, literacy and numeracy training.

TAFE Queensland delivers the SEE program in communities across the state, offering locals the opportunity to improve their employability and set themselves on the path to a successful career with practical skills that are tailored to participants’ abilities, goals and interests. Participants are then able to pathway into a course with TAFE Queensland, completing the units they need to gain a qualification while receiving continued literacy support.

“My initial goal was to find something I enjoyed and help figure out what I wanted to do in the future,” Monique said.

“After losing Lach I felt so helpless and lost, which caused a lot of self-doubt and emptiness. But when I was studying, I managed to keep my brain busy, which was very helpful.”

Monique had thrown herself into her qualification and had completed most of her theoretical assessments when her world was flipped upside-down for a second time, forcing her to hit pause on her studies.

After experiencing a range of symptoms that had previously been attributed to teenage hormones, including migraines, vision loss, tremors, sudden pain, dizziness, and memory loss, Monique changed doctors and underwent testing that discovered something much more serious was at play. 

“The day I found out, I was out mowing when Mum got the phone call. My doctor had told her that I needed to go to the hospital and that they suspected I had a tumour in my brain,” Monique said.

“We drove to Gympie Hospital and confirmed with them that I needed to go immediately to Brisbane Children's Hospital. The drive there I was a bit concerned, but I was more worried for my mum — we had already been through enough that year.”

Monique was diagnosed with a secondary glioblastoma benign tumour, which due to its location, was causing a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid that was increasing pressure in her head. Monique required surgery to relieve the pressure, during which a port was placed in the top of her head to enable access in case the tumour grew and caused any further blockage.

“They don’t believe the tumour will cause me any more grief, but I have check-ups every few months to ensure the port isn't causing any issues and that the cerebrospinal fluid is still flowing and the tumour isn't growing,” Monique said.

“Because of the port I'm not allowed to play any contact sports or be involved in any sudden head movements in case it causes a bleed on the brain, so it’s just as well I didn't do well in sports,” Monique joked.

“I’m just lucky that the tumour was discovered when it was, because I was planning on going skydiving for my birthday two weeks later, which I’ve been told would of been fatal.”

Nearly four months after receiving her diagnosis, Monique made the decision to return to TAFE Queensland to complete her Certificate III in Individual Support (CHC33015).

“I’d already done so much and thought that if I did it, I would be making people proud and I would have a certificate under my belt for when I wanted to expand into my future career,” Monique said.

“It also has helped me develop key skills in communicating and personal development. The Certificate III in Individual Support (CHC33015) was very interesting and well-constructed in theory and practical classes, but I think I enjoyed the teachers the most when I was studying — they were always actively there for their students, and my teacher was very understanding and helpful when it came to completing my certificate.”

Monique graduated with her qualification in March 2022 and was working to save up and further her studies when she found herself drawn more and more towards a different type of career caring for others. Inspired after helping her sister raise her nephew, Monique made the decision to make the most of the funding available to her and explore her options by enrolling in a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education (CHC30121) and Care at TAFE Queensland’s Gympie campus in July.

It’s a move that Monique admitted was unexpected, but one she is glad she made.

“Josiah arrived six days before I found out about my tumour. I never really saw myself in a child care setting, but spending this time with Josiah has really opened me up to the idea of spending my days with children,” Monique said.

“Sitting back looking at how my life was playing out, I weighed up all industries and I did a career quiz and it mentioned that I would go well in child development and care, so that also helped me make the decision to pursue this.” 

Monique has since gained employment at Uniting Church Child Care Centre and while she’s still keeping her options open, said she’s loving her new path.

“For the next few years this is what I want to do and whether that changes in the future or not, I’m not sure, but growing and developing more skills is my present goal,” she said.

According to the National Skills Commission, employment opportunities in the health care and social assistance sector are projected to increase by 14.2 per cent nationally over the next five years.

Enrolments for Semester 1 2023 are now open, and with the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care (CHC30121) currently available to eligible Queenslanders at no cost under the State Government’s Free TAFE for Under 25s funding, there’s never been a better time to get started.