Nikki Berza knew from a young age that she wanted to make a difference in children's lives.
Growing up surrounded by younger cousins, she found herself enjoying their company and helping care for them.
This week, Berza will graduate from McMaster University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN). Her future has already started, as she is working as a registered nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at McMaster Children's Hospital.
"Nursing is something that I've always known I wanted to pursue," said Berza. "It stems from a love of science and a love for caring for people, especially children and babies."
Berza is among 521 students graduating from the McMaster Mohawk Conestoga BScN program at the McMaster convocation on Tuesday, June 13 at Hamilton Place.
"I am just one of the many people who will be walking across the stage who worked incredibly hard to get their degree," she said humbly.
Berza was raised in Milton, Ont. and graduated from Bishop Reding Catholic Secondary School.
She came to Canada from the Philippines at age four. She notes her parents, Juliet and Sammy, taught her and older brother, Joshua, the value of hard work and dedication.
These were important lessons that helped her through nursing school.
Just as she was decisive about her field of study, Berza also knew that her school of choice was McMaster.
"McMaster has a great nursing program, it offered me opportunities with its connection to the children's hospital and it was close to home," she said. "Of all the schools I applied to, when I got accepted to McMaster that was it. There was never any other school for me."
Bolstered by encouragement from her family and friends, Berza fast-tracked her degree. She completed her courses in December 2016.
It was a fourth-year placement in the NICU at the McMaster Children's Hospital from September to December that inspired her to focus specifically on babies needing extra medical care.
She passed her registered nurse exam in February and was hired shortly after to return as a staff member to the NICU.
"You get to do things like help babies breathe for the first time on their own and help parents hold their babies for the first time, which is incredible," she said. "There are a lot of beginnings, but there are also endings. Whether it is a parent's best memory or their worst memory, you are a part of that memory as that baby's nurse and it is important to be there for them."
Berza, who made the Dean's List all four years, encourages the new class of BScN students to take advantage of every opportunity offered by the school and the university.
Berza was a Welcome Week representative for her program all four years and the level four representative with the McMaster University Nursing Student Society in her last year. She will also be helping with the graduation and pinning ceremonies this week.
In addition, Berza is a long-time volunteer with the MS Society of Ontario. She also plans to volunteer at a nursing home near McMaster where she worked part-time through her undergraduate degree.
Berza said she anticipates spending a few years working before pursuing a master's degree in nursing to become a nurse practitioner in acute pediatrics or neonatalogy. Long term, Berza would like to give back to her alma mater, perhaps as an instructor or even as a professor.
"I've always thought about coming back and working for the McMaster University School of Nursing because it has given so much to me," she said. "McMaster has given me lifelong friendships, opportunities in places like McMaster Children's Hospital and things that I will keep with me throughout the rest of my life."
In addition to the nursing degrees, the convocation will feature degrees conferred on graduate and medical radiation science students at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony.