‘I’d been a cleaner, I’d driven trucks. At 43, I enrolled in university for the first time.'

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By the time Karita McCarthy was 43, she had five children and had worked in nearly “every industry”. 

“I’d been a cleaner, I’d been on the mines driving dump trucks, I’d run a nightclub, I’d run a restaurant, I’d worked at the mandatory treatment centre for alcohol withdrawal, and I’d been in roles like Aboriginal liaison officer and Aboriginal mental health worker,” she told Mamamia

“I’d had hundreds of jobs but I just couldn't find anything that was my niche." 

Then in 2017, the First Nations woman from Darwin said she just “got sick of it". 

“I’d had enough of checkouts, hospitality and working in health because I didn’t feel like I was changing anything, and I wasn't progressing in my career because I didn't have the paper that I needed to be able to progress with my career,” the now 49-year-old explained. 

So, on a dare with her 12-year-old daughter, she did the one thing she knew she needed to achieve her dreams. And that was to enrol at university as a mature student. 

Image: Supplied.


‘I was a mum of five heading back to study.’

With so much experience in healthcare, and a desire for a career with endless possibilities, a flexible Bachelor of Nursing was the natural choice for the mother of five. 

“The thing with nursing is that there are thousands of jobs, so it doesn’t matter if one year I might want to be a diabetic educator and then the next year I might want to be a remote area nurse and the next year I might want to be a wound nurse,” she said.

“There’s just so much more opportunity for nurses and to be able to upskill.”

But as a single mum, Karita just couldn’t afford to do it alone. So, she made some inquiries at Charles Darwin University — where she “already knew a lot of the mob in the Indigenous support services” — and applied for a range of funding grants.


“Charles Darwin University offers hundreds of scholarships and I applied for every single one,” she said, “and I got every single one.” 

‘I had 150 per cent support.’

With a full scholarship behind her, Karita said she received “150 per cent support” from Charles Darwin University, which was “absolutely amazing” and had a great open door policy.

Image: Supplied.

“It didn’t matter what year you were in, you could get to the top and talk whenever you wanted to talk,” she said, also adding that there were plenty of bridging programs available for mature-age students who might not understand certain things such as how to write an assignment. 


And while the three-year course wasn’t without its hardships, Karita faced those challenges head on. 

“I had lots of mental challenges through it all,” she said. “Especially being my age, going through menopause and all the fun kinds of things, but Charles Darwin University offered me a brilliant counselling service. You can also go into agreements with the lecturers if you need extensions on your assignments because you’re struggling with kids and work, or if you’re on your own.” 

But it was the university’s support for flexible online and distance learning that really kept Karita going while she tried to raise her family and maintain her job as a patient care assistant in order to “top the income up”.

“It was up to us whether we wanted to study internal or external,” the mother of five, whose children then ranged in age from 12 to 24, explained. “So when I had time, I went to class, and if I didn't have time, I did it 100 per cent online with lecture content on demand, which was at least half of the time when it suited. 

Karita said the ease to switch from full-time to part-time study gives her reassurance to recommend Charles Darwin University to other parents contemplating a flexible return to study.


“I would absolutely give anyone confidence to study online, because you can sit up at 10 o'clock at night, a time that works for you, when the kids are in bed and you’re home from work, and you can actually get all your lectures and everything done then.”

Image: Supplied.

‘I really click with my patients.’

Six years on, life is a lot rosier for the 49-year-old, who’s gone from baked beans and noodles to the “best rump now”. 


“It feels great being able to go into the butcher and buy a $30 piece of meat and thinking, ‘Yeah, I can afford that and I deserve it’,” the now registered nurse said. “I have more financial security now, and that’s the biggest thing about nursing. Because you can be casual, you could be permanent, or you could be full-time.” 

Since graduating in 2020, the world has opened up for Karita, far beyond a paycheck. 

“It takes a while to find your feet and I won’t say the last three years of being a nurse have been easy, but they’ve been fun,” she explained. “I’ve been to the Torres Strait Islands, Hope Vale, Tennant Creek and Yarrabah in Queensland, I've travelled everywhere, and now I'm living in Moree in New South Wales.” 

Working in the emergency department, Karita said she “absolutely loves it” and that her colourful career history has only worked to her advantage in becoming the very best nurse she can be.

“Like going back to working as a patient care assistant, when you're going through your nursing, it gives you the skills to be able to do things that other people can't do,” she elaborated. “And while I'm only a junior in nursing, I've got a really high knowledge of mental health and alcohol and other drugs, and Indigenous healthcare. 

“I like to say that I’m a very proud Irish Scottish Aboriginal woman, and I really grasp on to all of my culture and being white and Aboriginal. So, I find that I can really click and get on and relate to my patients. And that's the biggest thing, because I speak to so many young Indigenous women that go, ‘Oh, I can't do this’, and I say, ‘Why not? Because I've got five kids, and five grandkids’.”


Balancing family life with study.

In encouraging others to chase a career change through a flexible university degree, Karita said the biggest thing is learning to balance family life with studying, living within a budget, and always being positive. 

“You’ve got to definitely have really good time management and you’ve got to be in a routine to be able to do it,” she explained. “I used to lock myself in a room and my daughter knew, don’t go in there, mum’s studying.” 

For anyone considering nursing, Karita said you might already have a great foundation.

“It doesn't matter if you're working on a checkout at a supermarket, you've still got the skills that you need because you've got customer service,” she insisted. “That's the biggest thing. If you’re working in any sort of industry where you're working with people, you've already got a lot of what you need to be able to be a nurse, because you’ve just got to be able to communicate with people.”

Reach your goals with a 100 per cent flexible degree at Charles Darwin University. Switch between part-time and full-time study as you need, with a degree in health, education, engineering, business, law, social work, environmental science, and more. 

Feature Image: Charles Darwin University/Supplied/Mamamia.

Charles Darwin University
Charles Darwin University degrees are 100% online, with the flexibility to switch between part-time and full-time, so you can fit learning around your lifestyle. As a top Australian University for graduate employment outcomes, we've been delivering online and distance degrees for more than 30 years, so we know how to support you. Apply now to study health, teaching, engineering, law, social work, environmental science and more. Visit