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From paddock to hospital bed and back again: How TAFE Digital helped Courtney carry on

TAFE Digital

From paddock to hospital bed and back again: How TAFE Digital helped Courtney carry on

BACK FROM THE BRINK: Courtney Cleeland at home on the farm after a torrid battle with leukaemia. Ms Cleeland was supported by TAFE Digital through her studies and is hoping to become an advocate for farmer health awareness.

25 May, 2020

A student diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia during her studies has praised TAFE NSW for giving her the flexibility she needed to complete her diploma from a hospital bed and has now set her sights on becoming an ambassador for health in agriculture.

Courtney Cleeland, 25, was studying a Diploma of Agriculture online with TAFE Digital and had just started her dream job at a dairy farm last August when nagging fatigue and a slow-healing rib injury forced her to seek medical treatment.

After a series of tests, doctors discovered she had leukaemia. By 5am the following morning, she was at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, where she stayed for months to receive regular chemotherapy and cell transplants. Despite her spiralling health, Ms Cleeland was determined to finish her diploma, often logging in from her hospital bed.

“I wouldn’t have been able to study and work at the same time if it wasn’t for TAFE Digital and that ability to study whenever and wherever I want was a godsend when I was in hospital,” she said. “I didn’t want to defer my studies and the teachers were so accommodating of my lifestyle, it really was amazing.”

She later successfully graduated from the course and while she is still battling the disease, she is hoping to be well enough to do some part-time work in the coming months.

Ms Cleeland’s passion for agriculture was forged early, running around her granddad’s property as a child and milking cows at a neighbouring property as a teen. At 17, she completed a Certificate III in Agriculture, later followed by a Certificate IV, and worked on dairy farms in Victoria and a cattle station at Jugiong, near Cootamundra.

She remains a strong advocate for encouraging more young women into agriculture and said TAFE Digital was an important part of the training puzzle, allowing students, especially in remote areas, to receive quality training from industry-leading teachers.

“The diploma taught me so much about the business of farming, as well as things like plant production and animal health,” Ms Cleeland said. “The course was really affordable and the feedback from teachers was incredible. I also think learning online is an advantage as you don’t have to travel to a classroom a classroom.”

Once she is back to full health, Ms Cleeland wants to kickstart her career, with a focus on cattle genetics.

In the meantime, she has an important message for those on the land.

“Farmers are typically tough and stoic but I just want to raise awareness about leukaemia and urge farmers that if something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out,” Ms Cleeland said.

TAFE Digital agriculture teacher Melinda Whale said it was gratifying to see passionate students like Ms Cleeland thrive by studying at their own pace through TAFE Digital, regardless of where they live.

“It’s wonderful to be able to help Courtney complete the course despite her health challenges,” Ms Whale said.

“The Diploma of Agriculture is a nationally recognised qualification that has been designed by farm production experts for senior roles in agriculture. Units include livestock production, workplace safety, organic production, chemical use, machinery operations and maintenance, and water and drainage.”

To find out more about studying at TAFE Digital, phone 13 16 01 or visit

Media contact: Daniel Johns, TAFE NSW Media and Communications – Business Partner, 6938 1441, mobile 0477 722 428.