Completing a university degree isn't always a linear journey, but for University of Wollongong graduate Janaya Pender, it was one powered by a passion for better healthcare for First Nations peoples.
At the age of 29, the Bundjalung and Yuin woman quit her job in accounting and enrolled in university in 2017.
"It was quite scary ... It was definitely a big leap of faith kind of thing just to take a chance," Ms Pender said.
Already loving numbers and data with an accounting background, she decided to study social epidemiology - the social side of mapping diseases.
The 36-year-old had a few hurdles to complete her Bachelor of Public Health degree but on November 1 proudly dawned the graduation cap and gown as the first in her family to graduate.
Ms Pender hopes to improve access and the stigma around accessing health care for First Nations people by making it more culturally safe.
Growing up north of Wollongong in Engadine, "a very non-Indigenous community", she noticed people from her community hesitated to access health services.
A better understanding of First Nations culture and issues as well as a better working relationship between non-Indigenous and First Nations people could help make health services more culturally safe, Ms Pender explained.
"Without that, it's always going to be this kind of battle of people know better and know what we need and know what should fix the problems ... whereas our people know what they need."
Her six-year university journey was no easy feat, the Cronulla woman faced multiple personal challenges throughout.
In her first semester studying she went through a divorce and moved house, then during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 she was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and ADHD.
Planning to finish her degree in 2022, her father, a member of the Stolen Generation, then suffered a stroke.
"He became really ill, he ended up having kidney failure. He had cancer," she said.
"He's able to come to graduation and see me graduate, so that's that's kind of the icing on the cake for it all."
Ms Pender became a mum while studying, taking a year off while pregnant with her first-born daughter Odette.
Finishing a degree with a newborn, while breastfeeding was really challenging, Ms Pender said.
At the time she was studying full-time at home during the COVID-19 lockdown with her partner taking leave.
Her daughter became her key motivator to keep striving to finish her degree.
"I had pictures of her up at my desk at home just to kind of to push me through," she said.
"[My partner] kept reminding me 'Imagine how good it's going to be when you graduate and you can tell her that you've got a degree ... and you went through all these challenges and you still were able to do it'."
Ms Pender is a research assistant at UOW and will continue working in the Indigenous research space.
She is also the secretary of the Indigenous Working Group at the World Federation of Public Health Associations.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.