Mother and daughter nursing students head back to school together

Meet Tonya Kennedy and her daughter, Jess Cos, who are both studying to be nurses at Georgian College.

In time for Mother’s Day, we spoke with them about what it’s like sharing their educational experiences and why being able to study close to home is a gamechanger.

Tonya is a student in Georgian’s Practical Nursing program. Jess is a graduate of the college’s Practical Nursing program and is currently studying to become a registered nurse through a bridging program between Georgian and Ontario Tech University. And now Jess’ young daughter is even considering becoming a nurse.

A square of four images put together, showing the same two people in different images.

What’s it like sharing your educational journey as mother and daughter?

TONYA: It’s been really amazing. The first semester we were in school together. It was neat in the beginning because I was like, “Oh I’m following in your footsteps,” which is also kind of weird because usually it’s the kid who’s following in your footsteps.

It became more of a shared thing once she started school again as well. We’re both on the same ship, we’re both trying to get through nursing school. We talk about our courses and our content load.

Lots of times I’ve said to her “I don’t know how you do it.” I know what I’m going through, and I don’t have any little children who live with me like she does.

A family of five with four in postsecondary 

I have another daughter and she also went back to school to become a librarian, and I have a son who just started university to eventually become a lawyer. He would have gone no matter what, but it’s kind of funny because we’re a family of five and now four of us are in school.

We joke with my husband, “You’ve got to stay working because who’s going to support all of us?”

JESS: It’s been really weird honestly, but in a good way. (laughs) It has been helpful. A lot of her clinical experience, she’s been able to pull in from my knowledge if she has any issues. She has tons of life experience, so at the start of my career I was pulling from her life experience. It just kind of comes full circle now.

An adult and a child pose for a photo together.

What’s it been like being able to study and then work in your home community?

JESS: It’s very convenient. With my schooling at Georgian, my Practical Nursing diploma, I got hired right away. I was very prepared going into my job. I felt really good about it.

Why do you want to be a nurse?

TONYA: My mother always tells me that when I was young I used to always say when I grow up I want to be a singer or a nurse.

I was a professional singer for 20 years, so it just sort of makes sense that I’m now fulfilling the other part when I was the five-year-old kid saying when I grow up this is what I want to be.

Between 2018 and 2020, I developed a Lady Gaga tribute show, but when the pandemic happened it just all came to a halt, there was nothing. It was pretty devastating.

A person with long straight hair, dressed in a bodysuit covered in mirror pieces and a hat, poses on a stage with purple and blue lights around them, in front of four back-up dancers in tights and crop tops.
Tonya Kennedy, centre, performing a Lady Gaga tribute.

I was sitting around the house with no job now, and I’m watching the news 24/7 about the pandemic. It just started to really break my heart all the trouble the long-term care homes were having.

It’s not in me to sit and let everyone else do the work. I’m a doer. So I called around to the nursing homes and said, “Are you taking volunteers?” I had to do something.

‘It was like a total calling’

I volunteered at Roberta Place long-term care home, and after about three weeks I thought, “I’m supposed to be here but I’m supposed to be a nurse.” It was like a total calling.

I want to work in emergency. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I want to stand on a stage in front of thousands of people and sing, or I’m going to into emergency.

‘I didn’t see myself doing anything else’

JESS: It’s fast paced, so that’s good. I work in mental health, so it’s not a typical nursing job. We do a lot of assessing, which would be the biggest part of working in mental health.

Making sure everyone’s doing well and having to be fine-tuned when you see triggers or patients are showing signs that something’s not right. You have to be very focused on that. It’s a lot of multitasking.

I didn’t see myself doing anything else; it just seemed like the right move.

Jess, why did you want to continue your education to become a registered nurse (RN)?

There are definitely more opportunities for an RN, so that’s a huge part of it. Right now, I’m a frontline nurse so I would love to do something more in the background.

It just opens up so many more doors. I’ve been at my workplace for nine years now, so I’m ready to explore different options.

Two people in formal dresses smile in a selfie.

What has your experience at Georgian been like?

TONYA: It has been really great. I’ve had so many people ask me about becoming a nurse during the pandemic and whether I feel like I’m going to be ready to go into the workforce because there have been so many limitations due to the pandemic.

I don’t know how Georgian did it, but there haven’t really been limitations for us. We still went to the labs, we still had hands-on practising, and we had placements all throughout.

Plus, they’ve given us some really great opportunities. I got to do two flu clinics, which I think is pretty cool.

A side view of a person in blue scrubs and face mask giving someone a vaccination injection in their arm.

Even the online learning thing has been OK, and the professors have been really wonderful about being available to us. Georgian has figured out how to make it work.

JESS: I’ve got really good things to say about Georgian, which is why I went back. During my first time at Georgian it was really good. I learned a lot. It was right when the Sadlon Centre for Health and Wellness had just opened up.

It was very fancy and very in-depth in the labs, which was awesome. The class sizes were perfect. It wasn’t too big or too intimately small. The professors were awesome.

Studying during the pandemic has been stressful. Having to navigate the online schooling for me, plus my kids had online schooling, was chaotic.

But my young daughter is now thinking about becoming a nurse. She sees my husband and I – he’s also a nurse – so she’s very into what doing what mom wants to do. That’s something she’s exploring.

Two adults and a child smile for a selfie together.

What’s your advice for people considering a career in nursing?

TONYA: That fear of going back to school after so many years really held me back for a decade almost, where I was just so afraid. You’re still thinking about what other people are going to think of you. But after a very short time, I realized that nobody cared except for me.

I feel like, for anybody who’s older and wants to go back to school, especially for nursing, there’s never been a better time. There’s just such a call for nurses right now.

Anybody who has ever wanted to go into nursing or has ever considered it, now is the time, especially because Georgian now has a degree program.

One of my biggest fears about going back to school was that I had to go down to York. I didn’t want to go down there. Now you can do the whole thing in Barrie – it’s a dream come true.

JESS: Just be prepared. It’s not an easy job but it’s worth it. It all depends on where you work. There are harder jobs than others. My job is probably on the easier side, but mentally it’s very draining. But you see the change in people and you get to care for them and you know that you make a difference in someone’s life, so that’s nice.

Learn more about Georgian’s nursing programs, including Central Ontario’s first four-year Honours Bachelor of Science – Nursing program, which launches this fall.

Our categories