Life after the Leaving: ‘I realised I had made a massive mistake’

Galway native Rebecca Donnellan wanted to do nursing, but then, at the last minute, she changed her mind and put biotechnology and French down on her CAO application instead.


“For the whole of sixth year I wanted to do nursing. Then, various people just talked me out of it. They mentioned the long hours, the lack of jobs and opportunities, the terrible pay. It was all negative and I started questioning myself. I had nursing on my CAO application , and on the last day, I put down biotechnology instead.

“It made sense on paper. Good opportunities, nice, predictable jobs, and I had an A in biology so it could have worked. When results came, I got biotechnology and started the course. Two months in I realised I had made a massive mistake. In December 2012, things hadn’t improved so I approached the college of nursing in NUI Galway about transferring. The director of nursing met me and explained the course in detail, which was great, but it was apparent I was too late. The first placement had been completed by students and it wasn’t possible to switch courses at that stage. I was really disappointed. I thought they might be able to at least offer me a place for the following year but I had to reapply through CAO again.

“The college advised me to finish the year of biotechnology, so I did, and I just had to wait to see if I would get a place in nursing. Unbelievably, nursing had jumped by 25 points. I had 470 points and the first round had a cut-off of 475. I was gutted, absolutely gutted. A couple of days later, I got a call from the CAO offering a place. I was elated.

“Although I had to pay full fees to go back for that year, it was 100 per cent worth it. The difference between studying something you’re passionate about and something you’re not is huge. I just knew biotech wasn’t for me. The motivation now for nursing is completely different. I love college, I particularly loved the placement. I met so many wonderful people. Every day is different, every patient is unique. This is the kind of job where you can really make a difference.

“That said, you need to go in with your eyes open. I realise in hindsight the people advising me not to do nursing were focused on the negatives and I hadn’t realised all the positives. On the other hand, there were plenty on the course who were completely taken aback by the realities of the job. A healthy balance is good, I think.

“I know I’ll specialise. I’m not sure in which area yet, but I know I’m in the right sector. I took the long way around but I got here eventually!”

– In conversation with Gráinne Faller

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