PEI

From fish plant worker to nurse: A UPEI valedictorian's story

Marie Antoinette Pangan came to P.E.I. as a temporary foreign worker, working at fish plants, a hotel, and a fast food restaurant. She will be valedictorian at one of UPEI's convocation ceremonies.

'It just feels so happy, helping people in just simple ways, taking care of them'

Marie Antoinette Pangan will be valedictorian for one of the 2019 convocation ceremonies. (Mel Guray Photography)

Marie Antoinette Pangan didn't have the typical journey to earning a nursing degree. She's originally from the Philippines and came to P.E.I. almost 10 years ago.

She's worked in a fish plant, a hotel and a fast food restaurant, among other jobs, all in hopes of becoming a permanent resident and being able to get a degree from a Canadian university.

"It's hard but I think it's going to be worth it," she said.

I really want to pay back the province, so I wanted to stay here.— Marie Antoinette Pangan

Pangan said it's a dream come true to be graduating from nursing at UPEI. She said it brings a sense of security — something she didn't feel when she first came to P.E.I. as a temporary foreign worker. 

"Being a temporary foreign worker, you don't have any assurance.... But now I've finished my degree ... I can feel like I have a brighter journey," she said.

A better life

Pangan got her permanent residency status in 2014, and soon after was able to bring her son to Canada as well. 

She said her ultimate goal was to create a better life for him. 

Pangan and her 16-year-old son Gwyn Igor. She says she was happy she was able to bring her son to Canada after getting permanent residency in 2014. She also recently got her Canadian citizenship. (Submitted by Marie Antoinette Pangan)

Pangan said she'd always been "dreaming" of going back to school and decided on nursing because she knew a job would be guaranteed.

While she did the four-year program, she also worked at a couple of different seniors' homes. 

She is very bright, she works hard and she is very smart.— Prof. Christina Murray, UPEI nursing

"Being a nurse is so rewarding," she said. 

"It just feels so happy, helping people in just simple ways, taking care of them, listening when they need someone to listen to."

Pangan said the hardest thing was doing her studies in her second language. 

Her education, however, was almost entirely funded by scholarships, and she's won multiple awards on top of being voted to be valedictorian for her convocation ceremonies. 

'So driven and she's resilient'

One of her professors, Christina Murray at the UPEI school of nursing, described Pangan as incredibly hard working, and committed to the profession.

Murray said a project that Pangan worked on about the health of temporary foreign workers was a valuable piece of research. 

Pangan at Andrews of Charlottetown. She has worked at a couple of different seniors' home while pursuing her studies. (Laura Meader/CBC )

"She is very bright, she works hard and she is very smart," Murray said.

"She's so goal-oriented and she's so driven and she's resilient."

Murray said Pangan is a gift to the nursing profession. 

Nursing studies help family member

 Pangan's sister Abegale Bantugan — who now lives in Qatar — has travelled to P.E.I for her graduation. 

 She had breast cancer when Pangan was in school and said her sister was a great support. 

Pangan, left, with her sister Abegale Bantugan, who said Pangan helped her deal with her breast cancer. 'It helped a lot thinking that I have a sister who's doing the nursing thing,' says Bantugan. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"She's always calling me while doing the chemo treatment. So she's always on the call," Bantugan said.

Pangan said she now has an interest in oncology. 

"Her being sick and having that diagnosis is a big influence for me," Pangan said.

Wants to give back to P.E.I.

Pangan has several job offers to consider and hopes to work in one of P.E.I.'s hospitals. She said she's also planning a long-awaited trip back home, as she hasn't been back to the Philippines for five years.

"I'm looking forward to work as an RN at the hospital to gain more experience and knowledge so I can help more," she said.

She knows nurses are in demand everywhere, but said she wants to be a nurse on P.E.I. 

"I really want to pay back the province, so I wanted to stay here."

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