Yesterday, the mother of three graduated with a degree in medicine from Trinity College Dublin — six years after returning to education as a mature student.
Emer, 33, who will take up a junior position in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, is considering a career in obstetrics and gynaecology.
Her youngest child was just a year old when she applied for a place on the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) Foundation Course.
The foundation course offers another way to third-level education for mature students and young adults whose social, economic and cultural experiences have prevented them from going to college.
“I dropped out of school because I had no interest in education. A year later I became pregnant,” said Emer.
At the graduation ceremony were Emer’s three children, Leanne, 14, Darren, 11, and Louise, who will celebrate her seventh birthday next month.
Also looking on with pride was Emer’s husband, David, whom she married in 2010 just after starting the access programme.
“I had a friend who had come through the access programme,” she said. “She completed a degree in psychology and encouraged me to go for it. I chose medicine because I was attracted to science and Sara Grimson, the TAP course co-ordinator, was very encouraging.”
Emer found that she was a trail-blazer because no mature student had gone before her so she had no idea of what lay ahead.
“I never failed a single subject,” she said. “I got excellent grades and was delighted with myself.”
But there were tough times for Emer and her family who live in Glasnevin, Dublin: “My husband, who is from Dublin, stopped working when I got into medicine. It was a big financial struggle from then on.”
Emer and another foundation student, Andre Maseko, who also graduated in medicine yesterday, supported each other through the five-year degree course.
“It was tough in the beginning,” said Emer. “I was the only student without a primary degree, and I felt very isolated. But Andre and I stuck it out together. Even up to our final exams we were side by side supporting each other.”
Andre came to Ireland from South Africa as a child after his father passed away. He had been living independently and supported himself throughout the course by part-time work as a cleaner. He will work his last shift as a cleaner in July, before starting his career as a medical doctor.
Andre has also supported TAP’s work by volunteering as an ambassador to inspire younger students to fulfil their educational potential.
The TAP Foundation course for young adults and mature students began in 1997 and, to date, 617 students progressed to degree courses in TCD, including 39 who graduated yesterday.