Grief and Gratitude: Dawn Niccolichia Graduates the Veterinary Assisting Program With Perseverance Making Her Way Through One of Life’s Toughest Moments

“When Dawn came to Carrington College she was nervous and scared. But she overcame those feelings quickly when she realized she was truly exceptional with her veterinary assisting skills,” says Alison Duncan, Dawn’s Carrington College Academic Coach. Alison has stayed in contact with Dawn since her graduation last November and says that she has been enjoying her career very much since she began working at Paradise Valley Animal Hospital.  But there were some dark days in between the time she enrolled in the Veterinary Assisting Program in March 2023 and graduation.

Approximately two months after Dawn began Veterinary Assisting Program, her 82-year-old mother, who was living with her at the time, suffered a cardiac arrest while Dawn was not at home and died of a heart attack before Dawn could reach her. For someone who is a natural caretaker of both people and animals, this was a hard experience to go through. Dawn credits Alison with supporting her throughout her time at Carrington College; Alison credits Dawn with finding the perseverance and the drive to succeed.


Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you chose Veterinary Assisting.

Ever since I was little, I loved animals. I remember thinking I wanted to be a vet, to work with animals and help them. But when I found out they have to euthanize animals, I didn’t want to be one! As I got older, I was more into early childhood care and the educational aspect of kids and babysat for many years. But I always had a lot of animals. I have five personal dogs and three cats right now.


How did you find Carrington College’s Assisting Veterinary Program?

I had been a bus driver for the [Paradise Valley Unified School District] for many years, but I took a leave in early 2023 to take care of my Mom, who was living with me in an RV in my backyard. Driving the bus and caring for Mom was all too stressful. I emailed the Director and told him I would not be coming to work; and had no idea what I was going to do! I thought going to school was the answer, if I could afford it. I began googling to find something close by.  Carrington College popped up and its Veterinary Assisting Program. I called them on a Tuesday, and class started the next Monday.


How did it go?

My Mom was so proud. She always rooted me on, seeing me studying out here, writing papers. She even hemmed my pants for the first day of class (I’m a shorty). I was only about two months into the program when she passed away from a heart attack.


I’m so sorry for your loss.

Thank you. I just want to say if it weren’t for Alison Duncan and all of her help, a shoulder to cry on, and her selflessness I don’t think I would have been able to have the perseverance that I did.


She was very impressed with you.

Thank you. I remember the first day I stepped into her office, she had a board with different sayings on it. I chose “I believe in myself and my ability to succeed.” But that couldn’t have been any further from what I felt at the time!


Tell us about your work at Paradise Valley Hospital?

It’s a challenge because of my life and still dealing with the grief since last year. There are times when I struggle. But it is good to be there and put my mind on something else.


You’ve been through it but you have made it through. Is there anything you’d like to say to potential students reading this article, who may have similar struggles, about your experience going through school?

No matter what you’re going through, you have to keep going. You have to push yourself.  You’re going to have good days, and you’re going to have bad days. It may not get easier, but it will get more manageable.  Having that support from friends and family is very important.  Personally, without the support, I wouldn’t have made it. Good luck. You got this!

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