Fulfilling her purpose

Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Pharmacist moves from Jamaica to Saskatchewan to reinvent herself

Pauline Johnson believes things happen in life for a reason—including her journey from Jamaica to Canada and from a career in pharmacy to a career in information technology. Johnson, a 2020 graduate of the Saskatchewan Polytechnic Business Information Systems diploma program and current Information Technology Coordinator at Westridge Construction Ltd. in Regina, is a testament to reinventing yourself in a second career.

Pauline’s professional journey began in Jamaica, where she earned a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree and worked as a registered retail pharmacist. “In retail pharmacies, you have to be quick, accurate and precise. In Jamaica, the pharmacist is in charge of everything, so you also have to work long hours, sometimes 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.,” Pauline says. “It is a huge responsibility, and I wasn’t getting the chance to practice how I wanted.”

It was a friend who suggested Pauline consider a career in IT. “I have always loved computers. I was never afraid of trying to fix computer problems on my own, so people started calling me ‘techie’ and asking me to help with their problems.”

Things might have continued this way except that in 2014 her husband, who had always wanted to come to Canada, got a job offer in Alberta and was going through the necessary paperwork to get a work permit. “The plan was for me to take the board exams in Pharmacy so that when we made the transition, I would also be able to work in my field. Although I passed the first evaluating exam, I didn’t continue the process because our family decided to stay in Jamaica,” Pauline says.

Three years later, they found themselves revisiting their plan. “My neighbour from Jamaica moved to Saskatoon and wanted us to come as well. This time around, the plan was that my husband would go to school and I would finish up the pharmacy exams and work as a pharmacist until he completed his studies,” Pauline says.

“When our friend recommended Sask Polytech, he did so with the intention of my husband selecting a program in engineering. It was while looking through the programs for my husband that I saw the computer programming course and fell in love. I just heard myself in that program,” Pauline says. “I decided to apply, and so the tables were turned; my husband would work and I would go to school.”

Following up with an international student advisor, Pauline was disappointed to learn the program was full. The advisor suggested Sask Polytech’s Business Information Systems (BIS) program as an alternative. Pauline reviewed the program and felt the same tingle of excitement. She applied and arrived in Moose Jaw in the fall of 2018. That first semester was a tough adjustment.

“When I was at university studying pharmacy, I would see the IT students hanging around campus, relaxing and enjoying themselves. Somehow, I got the impression IT was a laidback field. I thought the program would be easy—I was very mistaken,” Pauline says.

Despite the challenges, Pauline was committed. “I’m a determined person. I don’t give up easily,” she says. “I had uprooted my whole life and invested a lot of time and money. I had faith that there was a purpose in this journey, so I made up my mind to finish.”

Pauline’s dedication paid off. She made it through her first year with flying colours. “There are many things in place at Sask Polytech to help you to achieve. For me, it was collaborating with the instructors and asking questions outside of regular class time,” she says.

When she graduated in 2020, Pauline already had a job lined up with Westridge Construction, the same company she had worked for during her seven-month co-op work placement. In her first year at Westridge, Pauline has set up an intranet and document management system to centralize project information and enable collaboration with field and office staff in real time, developed software solutions to streamline paperwork, built multiple apps to enhance the flow of information, provided staff training on new systems and provided day-to-day troubleshooting. Her next focus is cybersecurity.

“I am a self-professed ambassador of Sask Polytech. I tell people in my home country about Sask Polytech, and a few have applied and are already doing programs there. It seems there are people in every type of professional job who went to Sask Polytech. It makes me proud to say I am a graduate because of the calibre of people who attended the school,” says Pauline.

Pauline looks back on her two years at Sask Polytech with understandable pride. Despite the challenges, she graduated with distinction and was named 2019 Co-operative Education Student of the Year. “The BIS program took tenacity, but I feel I am fulfilling my purpose,” Pauline says, “and that is when I’m at my best.”

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Published November 2021