‘To get this far given where I’m from feels like a big deal’

Students from disadvantaged areas are still underrepresented at third level

Hope Kudryashova from Jobstown, Dublin, one of 250 doctors from 26 countries who graduated from the College of Surgeons yesterday. Photograph: Ray Lohan/RCSI

Hope Kudryashova from Jobstown, Dublin, one of 250 doctors from 26 countries who graduated from the College of Surgeons yesterday. Photograph: Ray Lohan/RCSI

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 12:02

The route from Jobstown in west Dublin to the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin’s city centre is a flat 10km or so. But for Hope Kudryashova, it is a journey that has involved crossing some of the deepest ravines of the social divide.

Yesterday, Kudryashova (23) was one of 250 future doctors awarded medical degrees at a conferring ceremony in Dublin. “I feel really proud today,” she says. “To just get this far given where I’m from and to pass all my exams feels like a big deal. I’m the first person from my area to go the Royal College Surgeons. Hopefully, I won’t be the last.”

Few at the ceremony had to vault the kind of barriers she faced growing up in one of the most deprived areas of the State. Unemployment close to her home is several times the national average. Early school-leaving rates are among the highest in the country. Literacy is a major problem, too. Hope was always a bright spark. She did well at school – but it meant she became a target for bullying.

“I ended up attending counselling and seeing a psychologist,” she says. “There were days when I avoided going to school. We got a letter at home from the Department of Education to the house because I missed so many days.”

She moved house and schools, which proved transformational. Teachers at St Aidan’s, a disadvantaged Deis (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) school in Tallaght, went the extra mile to help her fulfil her potential.

“When they saw children with potential and goals, they did so much to help,” she says. “Chemistry wasn’t available as a Leaving Cert subject, but I wanted to study it. I couldn’t do the experiments on my own, so my biology teacher helped me and organised for me to go to the Institute of Technology in Tallaght, where they ran through them for me.”

Her family, too, were a big support. Hope’s parents – originally from Russia – encouraged her and her father helped instil an interest in maths and logic.

A stellar performance in the Leaving Certificate meant she was able to fulfil her dream of studying medicine.“I’m fascinated by the workings of the human body and I thought it would be really nice to have the ability to help change people’s lives for the better.”

Success stories like Hope’s, though, are rare. Many colleges now have access programmes for people from deprived areas. The RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland), for example, sets aside 5 per cent of its EU places for such students. However students from disadvantaged areas remain significantly underrepresented at third level, even more so in high-points courses such as medicine. Poverty is one barrier, she says, and poverty of expectation can be much more corrosive, but simple support and encouragement can have a profound influence.

There is a lyric from a song by the rock bank Metric which tumbles around her head and captures how she feels. “It says something like, ‘wish for less things to wish for and for more things to work towards’. When I have kids, I’ll tell them that. Work for it. The pleasure of getting something you work for and pulling yourself through is something else.”