Campus Life  

Student has clear vision to graduate as Health Care Assistant

Health Care Assistant graduate Jacquie Thom

Fifty-two-year-old Jacquie Thom can feel victorious as she graduates as a Health Care Assistant (HCA) from Okanagan College this month.

Thom is legally blind and was born with an eye condition called coloboma. She describes her vision as blurry and like seeing through a tunnel. Yet despite her vision impairment, she was inspired to pursue a career caring for the elderly after taking care of her parents when they were palliative.

“Supporting my parents showed me that it is such an honour to help someone through that period of time just before death. It’s just as important and honourable as birth,” explains Thom.

“To be there in a loving and supportive way. Even though it’s a very sad time it’s a very joyful time as well.”

Thom admits she was nervous at first to pursue a career that is very physical. Health Care Assistants carry out a variety of roles from helping move seniors from a bed to a wheelchair to personal care. But Thom trusted herself to know that she wouldn’t do anything she didn’t feel confident to do. Having low vision, Thom also uses her other senses to aid her in her work. While other students would look for the brake release on a wheelchair, Thom learned to feel for it.

Cathy Farrow, an Okanagan College Instructor in the HCA program, says Thom’s dedication to learning was instrumental to her success. She says Thom was able to meet all standards in the course with only minor modifications to the instructional strategies. These included sending Thom the reading and course instructions in advance, ensuring adequate lighting in the classroom, and adding touch when teaching.

“Jacquie is a dedicated learner and true professional,” says Farrow.

“Things those of us with vision take for granted, Jacquie has to put so much more effort into doing, and yet she never complains. She is adaptable, determined, and solution-focused. It has been an absolute pleasure working with Jacquie.”

With one in four Canadians developing irreversible vision loss by the age of 75, Thom also brings experience and empathy to an issue that can be very challenging for seniors.

I’m very understanding of the trials and tribulations of having low vision,” says Thom, adding for many people losing their sight is a grieving process.

“I can show them options to help, from using tech that is accommodating to a cane when walking and audiobooks instead of reading paperbacks. You can still do the things you love to do, you just do things differently.”

Thom has already secured a part-time position at a local long-term care and assisted living home.


The Health Care Assistant Certificate program is coming to Revelstoke, Vernon and Kelowna in January 2021, as well as Salmon Arm in March 2021. To learn about careers in care, visit the program website.

Visit the HCA program site

More Campus Life articles