Wednesday 18 September 2019

'I want to be a doctor and for every reason I thought of why I couldn't, there was an answer'

Kerri Rowen
Kerri Rowen

By the time she was 27, Kerri Rowen had dealt with a series of life challenges that could have stopped her education journey in its tracks.

Her parents had not completed second-level schooling which, in itself, can be a big determinant of a child's educational progress.

Kerri  broke that cycle and started third level, but dropped out after a year. She worked, she got married and she had a daughter. Subsequently, the marriage broke down, leaving her as a single parent.

Last year, at the age of 30, Kerri enrolled in medicine at University College Dublin. Now in second year, she says: "I have never been happier in my life."

Being a doctor was an early childhood dream for Kerri, from Finglas, Dublin, but an ambition that was knocked out of her as she grew up: "You hear about medicine - that you have to be so smart - and, over time, I lost my youthful confidence. You think medicine is for other people and that it definitely wouldn't be for someone like me."

Kerri says she ended up with an average Leaving Cert and had gone through school "not knowing what I wanted to do". Ultimately, she picked nursing because that was what her best pal was doing.

But when a friend died from cancer, Kerri found it difficult to continue and "I ran away from it".

She worked in an optician's for six years and enjoyed the clinical side of that, and also managed a health food shop.

Marriage and parenthood came along and, for a time, she was a stay-at-home mother. When her marriage broke down, Kerri put all her energies into "being there for my daughter".

There were basics like finding somewhere to live, as well as a big change adapting to a life where she was depending on benefit: "I had always been a proud person; I never thought life would end up like this."

It all changed one morning: "I woke up and just said, 'I am doing to be a doctor'."

Although it was a re-awakening of her childhood dream, she thought of every reason why she couldn't do it. Even friends suggested they wouldn't take a mature student.

"Curiosity got the better of me," says Kerri, who quickly discovered that mature students were accepted. She needed two Leaving Cert science subjects, and she had those.

Then she worried about the finances of it. After more enquiries, she learned of a childcare subsidy, and that she would also receive the Back to Education allowance.

"For every reason I thought of why I could not do it, there was an answer. I decided to go for it."

To show her commitment, she signed up as a volunteer in a cancer support centre. She wanted some first-hand experience and emailed about 100 consultants. "I didn't know any doctors; it was intimidating to say the least," she says. A few replied.

Eventually, a GP invited Kerri to shadow him and quickly identified her talent. He told her: "Medicine needs people like you," and sponsored Kerri to do a preparatory course for the HPAT aptitude test, which is part of the application process for medical school.

She landed an interview and remembers being asked what she would do if she didn't get in. She replied "find out where I went wrong and come back next year".

Kerri's is telling her story as part of UCD's inaugural University For All Week, which continues the theme of last week's nationwide College For Everyone programme, aimed at encouraging participation from students traditionally under-represented in higher education.

Irish Independent

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