'Everyone deserves a shot'

Fri, Nov 23, 2012, 00:00

Case study  Laura Ann Lambert, MedicineIn a few months, Laura Ann Lambert will graduate from Trinity College with a degree in medicine. Poised, charming and highly articulate, she could easily be mistaken for a classic child of privilege.

“I’ve often gone into [the operating] theatre and they will be grilling you – ‘what are the complications here ? What is the blood supply to that? What school did you go to?’ ”

The school question follows as naturally as breathing. The school was in Finglas, she tells them. “And you can see their eyes widen. I’m never quite sure what it is – is it surprise or admiration ?”

She can laugh now, but it has been a stony path.

“On paper, a girl from a single- parent family of five children in north Dublin, attending a secondary school with a below-average feeder rate for university, is a departure from your usual candidate for a medical degree. I represent the 4 per cent of people who come into the professions from my circumstances.”

With her mother’s mantra – “If you work hard enough, there is nothing you can’t do” – ringing in her ears and “the aspirations of an entire faculty of teaching staff” at Mater Christi girls secondary school behind her, she got into Trinity through the higher education access route, a reduced-points system.

In first year, Lambert was almost overwhelmed, partly by the “outrageously tough” course but also by a sense that she didn’t belong. “I withdrew into myself. I almost felt that I shouldn’t be here. For example, people were milling around with all those notes and I said, where are they getting them from?”

In darker moments, she found huge support from women such as Grace Edge and Lisa Keane in TAP. She was also working up to 24 hours a week to supplement the grant, waiting tables. “I realised that not one other person in my year was working,” she adds.

She still managed to add a master’s in bioengineering to her CV in third year.

Role models are also pretty scarce too in orthopaedic surgery, where her ambitions lie, but Lambert remembers all the girls in her Leaving Cert class who “had far more prowess and ability than myself. Everyone deserves a shot.”