When Daniel Leslie was 31, he was at the pinnacle of what it means to carve out an outdoor lover’s life.
In the summer, Leslie fought forest fires and in the winter he worked as a ski patroller/first aid attendant/avalanche technician. Physically demanding work, but for those who thirst for fresh air and adventure it was the perfect combination.
“I had the thrill that many young people seek… throwing bombs out of helicopters, skiing every day, matching that with my summer job fighting forest fires… that’s your dream seasonal match-up,” said Leslie.
“But looking at what I wanted to feel fulfilled, what I needed in the future as far as stability, I realized that as young as I was, in the long run it would be worth taking a different direction.”
While working as an avalanche forecaster for a mining operation, Leslie started talking to co-workers about options beyond the rigours of outdoor work. In those discussions, he was pushed towards considering a career in nursing.
A Daunting Undertaking
Leslie graduated from a Saskatoon high school in 1995 and instead of taking a pathway of post-secondary, chose to dive right into figuring out ways to satisfy his love for the outdoors.
He planted trees in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta in the summer and in the winter was a ski patroller at resorts like Big White and Kicking Horse. It wasn’t long before Leslie was fighting forest fires and exploring the world of avalanche forecasting.
All the while, Leslie was taking courses specifically geared towards his employment and never stopped learning.
When he made the decision to come to Selkirk College and enrol in the Nursing Program, Leslie discovered he didn’t have the proper pre-requisites. Determined to make the change, he enrolled in the Selkirk’s Adult Basic Education (ABE) Program.
“I felt very challenged in math in high school for a number of reasons,” Leslie explained. “I had an idea that it was going to be really hard. Little did I know that time, the Selkirk College instructors, the atmosphere in ABE, and my realization that I can do anything changed it completely. What was a subject I would have expected to struggle with quite a bit, I really had no issues. I even found it fun at times.”
Still working seasonal jobs, Leslie spent two years as a part-time ABE student. Along with two high school math courses, he took biology and chemistry.
“It really felt like all of the instructors were hand-picked to support, nurture and encourage the students,” Leslie says of ABE. “It never felt like any of the staff were put into that role not really feeling called to it. They are entirely focussed on your success and the accompanying services that they provide were phenomenal. The extra time they spent with you going through the homework, the assignments, the theory was amazing. They put you in touch with extra tutors, making sure you have everything you need to succeed.”
The Next Step Made Easier
When Leslie was accepted to the nursing program, he admits that diving into being a full-time student in his early-30s was a daunting proposition.
“Most people would be well into their career, seeking more financial stability and options,” he said. “In that case, taking a four-year break was certainly challenging.”
What wasn’t a challenge was Leslie’s enthusiasm for learning. Buoyed by his success in ABE, he dove into his studies with enthusiasm.
“The RN Program through Selkirk College is very challenging and it should be,” he said. “The essential building blocks for that started with the reintroduction to academics and studying and learning in that setting… it started with the ABE Program.”
In the Spring of 2014, Leslie graduated with an RN degree and his transformation was complete.
“It felt really good,” said Leslie. “For many years I did see my future as being fairly focussed on seasonal work and that was beginning to look pretty tedious for my future. Completing the RN Program and knowing what it truly opens up for me globally… if they open a hospital on Mars, I’m good. There is no end to the opportunity.”
Now 37, Leslie works as casual nurse at Kootenay Lake Hospital, a long-term care facility in Nelson and the Creston Valley Hospital. He also continues to enjoy the outdoors as a member of the Nelson Search and Rescue team.
Having successfully navigated a sharp turn in his life, Leslie says others considering a major change should not be intimidated by any of the roadblocks that stand in the way.
“You’ll be surprised,” Leslie said when asked what he would tell others contemplating a switch in career paths. “As much fear as you have about the change, about whether you can do it, will you know enough, will you have enough time, will you succeed… if you believe in yourself, the support you will get at Selkirk will get you through it.”