By Amanda Boundris
For decades, 49-year-old Lori Zozzolotto felt the call to nursing, but she let the voice in her head from her high school physics teacher tell her she couldn’t do it.
"He said that women weren’t smart enough to do well in the sciences," said Zozzolotto. "I was failing physics and he said he would pass me if I promised never to take another science course. For years I always kept thinking I wanted to be a nurse, but that I wasn’t smart enough."
Finally, she has silenced that voice.
On Friday, Nov. 16 the Mohawk College student will graduate with 35 of her peers from the McMaster Mohawk Conestoga Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) program during the 2:30 p.m. convocation ceremony at Hamilton Place. In addition, 17 master's nursing students and one PhD student will receive graduate degrees, and two students will receive their Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner graduate diplomas. Graduates from the rest of McMaster’s Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Science will also receive their degrees at this ceremony.
Everything changed for Zozzolotto when she took a first-aid course in 1987. By 5 p.m., after a full day of learning: "I was performing first-aid for the very first time on my best friend who had come to pick me up for dinner, after our car was T-boned. I was covered up to my elbows in blood, applying pressure to her head wound," she said.
Zozzolotto began to seriously consider nursing after over 20 years in the workforce and being exposed to nursing interactions and hospitals — first as a correctional officer, then a doula. As a correctional officer for 14 years, she escorted female inmates to their medical appointments and found herself providing emotional support to patients going through a rough time.
"I have a real kindness and compassion for people. I think that’s what drew me to nursing," she said.
The Milton native caught up on her prerequisites and earned her Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) diploma from Sheridan College in 2008. She achieved high marks and was named class valedictorian. "Instead of just surviving, I was flourishing. It was a real surprise to me," said Zozzolotto.
She decided she really wanted to be a registered nurse (RN) and enrolled in the Post-RPN to BScN program in 2009. "I only applied here because I wanted to go to McMaster. I wanted to go to the best school or no school," she said.
It wasn’t easy. For three years the single mom has worked two jobs while studying and raising her identical twin boys, Jake and Zak, 18. "Lots of coffee got her through her on-average 16-hour days.
"When you’re an adult student you have the best incentive. You can’t go home to mom and dad and say you failed. You have kids. Failure is not an option," said Zozzolotto.
She said it was a constant struggle financially, too, explaining: "It was trying to put food on the table, get clothes for the kids, and pay for books for school. You’re always wondering, do I have enough money for gas or parking?"
Zozzolotto now works as a community nurse for Acclaim Health in the Halton region, where she does home visits with chronically ill clients and people just released from hospital with acute conditions.