There is a consensus that to be in third level education, one does not necessarily need to have a vocation for their specific course. For most of us, our time in college and earning your degree is a matter of making friends, balancing a job and degree and getting through it all. Arguably, there are still careers today that could be considered only doable due to the innate calling of a vocation. For instance: nursing. No matter what your personal experiences with hospitals are however, most would admit that they are aware there is always some “crisis” in health care with nurses bearing the brunt of issues such as A&E closures or staff and pay cuts.
Despite this, each year, the CAO receives hundreds of applications for nursing in Trinity, UCD and DCU in Dublin city and county alone. Over the past two years, Trinity has offered its general nursing course to the first eligible 169 people who applied. A current Senior Freshman student nurse in Trinity stated that there were roughly 120 people in her course altogether which speaks for itself in the intensity of the course.Furthermore, whilst there is a steady interest in nursing, the CAO route is not always an option for those wishing to enter the profession.
Since we began school, we were force fed the importance of the current college application process, the CAO. Whilst this is the most common route to take when trying to get to third level education, there has always been scrutiny over how good the CAO system really is at determining your ability to be in higher education. For a practical job such as nursing, how fair of an assessment is the CAO? Does it test your ability to care for others? Does it test your patience and endurance?
For the most part, you could argue yes to those questions. And for most of us the current system works fine. It seems logical that anyone who wishes to embark on an arts or science degree would understand that developing one’s discipline in secondary school was important before coming up the University. This makes sense because higher education demands this personal discipline of you. For others, however, they feel disillusioned by the apparent finality of such a system.
Hoping to further explore these issues, I interviewed Madeleine Glynn, a 22 year old Irish student currently studying in Glasgow at the University of West Scotland to be a nurse. In our interview she describes how she felt ostracised by the CAO system and how her route is arguably a more suitable choice for those who feel a calling to dedicate their lives to the care of others.
For Glynn, despite the challenges that nursing presented, she went into her Leaving Certificate knowing what she wanted to do: “Around 5th year I looked at what I wanted from life, what I love in general and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be happy, driven and in a job that satisfied me. I put all those things together and I got nursing. I realised that it was just something that suited me hugely, even if I have blisters on my feet, I know I will come home content that I was doing something I loved every day.”
Despite her eagerness however, the road ahead wasn’t to prove simple. “Around the time I did the Leaving, the points for nursing in TCD, UCD and I think Cork were roughly 425-450. Depending on where you were. I remember that DCU was 450. Something some people would not find too difficult but I only managed to get 400. So that ruled me out. I also didn’t get my C in maths. I was never a maths person and I had done perfectly fine in all my other subjects so I was devastated to lose my chances on that also.”
The focus put on academic ability in Irish society is a major issue for Glynn: “Academia was not my strong point…so why was I being tested on my aptitude for it when my better abilities lay elsewhere? For me, there was also still that young doubtful 19 year questioning if this is what I wanted but because I didn’t get the points I was going to have to go through my last year of school all over again? No thanks.”
Major change to the CAO system is called for, according to Glynn. Suggesting an interview based system over an academic assessment, she insists it would better determine people’s passions, skills and talents. Not only that, but students are limited by the options provided for them in school. Even when these students find alternative methods to foster their skills, these aren’t recognised. “My choice of subjects was limited…so what if my essay writing skills aren’t the best? I can still chat and communicate my thoughts clearly when I’m speaking and part of a team. I loved sports and acted a little. I was fully competent in developing these skills further also. But the system that is the CAO basically told me no, actually you don’t get to do what you want because you didn’t work hard enough?”
Hoping to better understand the process Glynn undertook to become a nurse, I asked her to outline the education route that she took: “So I chose to do a pre-nursing course in the Dun Laoghaire Institute of further education. I actually really liked the content but the environment was quite motivational. However, this did not deter me or the other students. I was not ready to move just yet so I went on to do a course in physiotherapy in Blackrock Institute of Further Education. I loved this for the simple reason that it proved to me that physiotherapy was exactly what I did not want to do. To run my own practice is not for me. Then finally this summer I applied through UCAS to a few places in the UK but I knew I really wanted either Edinburgh or Glasgow. I was asked to come over and interview for both and I got Glasgow. I was truly delighted. I honestly have never felt more ready or empowered to start this journey”.
Highlighting the importance of the time and space her path afford her, Glynn talked of returned to the advantages of the path she took: “The pre-nursing course allowed everyone in my course an insight into what they truly wished to be doing. For instance, after the year-long course, some went into science, social care or even became beauty practitioners. Only a handful went on to do nursing straight away by applying through UCAS, gaining an interview in University’s such as South Hampton in England and so on.”
Furthermore, it allowed her to mature emotionally, as well as financially “For me, I wasn’t ready to move away just yet. Which is a huge reality for some when you think about it, like what if you seriously could not afford to live abroad? What are you supposed to do? Put your life on hold and wait till you are a mature student?”
Taking all of this into consideration, I asked given the choice, would she have tried to get more points in order to have attended an Irish college. Without a second’s hesitation, she responded: “No, no and no. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single second of my courses, diplomas and the journey that it has been. I am so delighted to be studying abroad, I love that those other courses reaffirmed my belief in what I wanted to do. It’s just weird to think that I could have been graduating now at 22/23 when I’m only beginning if the process hadn’t cut me off.”.
At the core of the issue, Glynn explains, is not pigeon holing anyone, even with an interview system. When asked the core qualities of a nurse, Glynn responded that she hated that question: “When nurses are asked this question, they do try to bullet point it into ‘empathetic, passionate, caring, trusting’. Obviously, these are qualities that you need but to act as if you should have these core characteristics a hundred percent of the time is just wrong. Plus, it’s not all or nothing” Understanding that each student is unique and that different people require different approaches to develop their skills is key to fixing both a broken healthcare and education system.
While Glynn recognises that the CAO system is successful for some students, for others like her, it fails: “It’s just easy to see the cracks in the system when you are the one slipping through and having to find an alternative. Everyone nowadays works and thinks independently and differently, so why isn’t the system accommodating to everyone?” Clearly keen about her choice of career, there is no doubt about Glynn’s commitment to her vocation. Why, then, does Ireland not want her to be a nurse?