School was not for Rotorua's Kelly Talbot but as a young mother, she knew she had to choose a career that would secure her daughter's future.
She landed on nursing and now 12 years later, she was last week named the Young Nurse of the Year by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO). .
But it wasn't an easy path, she explains to the Rotorua Daily Post.
"I was a young mum while doing my nursing [study] and it was hard, really hard. There were many times where I truly wanted to give up because I didn't think I was smart enough."
But it was that struggle that inspired her to become a helping hand for those in the same position.
The 29-year-old works fulltime as a clinical nurse specialist at Rotorua's Southern Cross Hospital and in her spare time, for the past three years, she has been a student nurse educator for Toi Ohomai Institue of Technology.
Talbot mentors a group of students doing their clinical placement, which can be the toughest part of the degree, she explains.
"It's the hardest time because you're on shift work but you have to juggle your study.
"But it's nice to be able to tell them I know exactly where they are and they will get through it.
"It's great that I can help build on their clinical knowledge with my teaching, seeing their confidence grow and being there to support them when they feel like giving up."
Talbot's plans for the future are to keep developing the pre-admission clinic she currently works at so patient outcomes continue to improve, plus she'd also like to do an education paper to enhance her teaching skills.
That is on top of finishing her master's degree.
But when asked if she would stop her teaching in fear of too much on her plate, her answer was no.
"I keep telling myself I will drop it because it's quite time-consuming I just can't because I really like it. It is a massive passion of mine so I will keep doing it for a while."
The NZNO said the competition was close but the judging panel said Talbot had the edge because she managed to work across two very complex sectors – education and acute care – in a way that her colleagues recognised was outstanding.
Those who nominated her said she had earned a solid reputation for her hard work, straight-talking, competent leadership and fine teaching.
They commended her compassion, courage and commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and say her teaching style enriches the learning experiences of students and potential future colleagues.
They also said she was able to educate patients, putting things into terms they could really understand.
Her nomination was accompanied by several supporting letters from her students who described her as "fantastic", "encouraging", "approachable", "helpful", and "professional".
Talbot said she was shocked to have received such recognition.
"Being told there was a panel of people who loved reading about my journey and my work made me teary-eyed, but I feel very proud and honoured."
The 2020 judging panel consisted of representatives from the award's sponsor All District Health Boards, NZNO and the Nursing Education and Research Foundation, alongside previous joint winners Aroha Ruha-Hiraka and Annie Stevenson.