Submitting my Thesis from Hospital with 20 Minutes to Spare

Mary Joyce

My name is Mary Joyce and I’m a Clinical Nurse Manager for the Endocrinology ward at the University Hospital Galway.

Twelve years ago, my life looked completely different. Facing an incredibly difficult divorce, I was working non-stop to support my four children on a nurses wage and I wasn’t sure what my future would hold.

I’m now proud to say that in 2018, I achieved my Master’s in Endocrinology with the University of South Wales and Diploma MSc. Without the love and support of my family and the flexibility of online learning, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Here’s my story…

Galway University Hospital
Galway University Hospital

My interest in the subject started when I took on a role in the new endocrinology testing ward at the University Hospital Galway. The lead Consultant Endocrinologist suggested I look into studying at a postgraduate level, as he could see my growing passion in the area. I knew that further studies would enhance my chances of becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist in the near future, but I also knew it was going to take a huge amount of dedication. After a week or so of mulling it over, I was willing and ready to start applying.

I set out to find a university here in Ireland, but was disappointed to discover that there was nothing that would allow me to complete my postgraduate studies alongside my full-time job and busy family life. Feeling a little disheartened, I stumbled across Diploma MSc, offering online, part-time courses in collaboration with the University of South Wales. It seemed a little too good to be true – but true it was!

Diploma MSc Alumni July 2019
Diploma MSc Alumni July 2019

After compiling the information needed to prove to the university that I was capable of studying at this level, things started to feel quite exciting. Qualifying as a nurse all those years ago, I never dreamed that I’d find a specialty that I really loved, let alone be going back to university at 40, yet there I was, pressing send on my application.

Fingers and toes crossed, I waited patiently to hear whether I had been accepted. It was only a matter of days before the applications department at Diploma MSc came back with the news that I was in. I couldn’t believe it!

My next action point was to apply for funding through the Nursing Development Unit in Galway. It was outside of the normal funding time frame, so I had to take my case to our Director of Nursing. Within a few days, I had yet another success! My funding had been granted and I knew that from there, it was all systems go. I was working full-time, a mother of four busy teenagers (two of which were due to undertake school exams in June) and I was about to start my postgraduate studies. There was certainly a lot on my plate, but I felt ready and excited about my future.

University of South Wales, Treforest Campus
University of South Wales, Treforest Campus

I started the course in March 2016 with wonderful support from my colleagues, partner and children. I travelled from Ireland for the University of South Wales Induction Day, which was hugely beneficial for me. Meeting some of the other students, along with learning a little more about how the course would run and what support I would receive certainly calmed my nerves.

Once the course had started, I found it surprisingly easy to manage with the six modules, each lasting six weeks. The breaks in between made it a perfectly steady pace, as long as I kept myself organised and on track. I chose to do my studying in the evenings, which was time-consuming but worth every minute. There was plenty of encouragement from the tutors and other students, and it was so exciting to be part of diverse conversations with other healthcare professionals from all over the world. I also found working within the exact environment I was learning about to be a real advantage, with direct exposure to what I was studying on a daily basis, there was plenty of opportunities to share my knowledge at work.

The year absolutely flew by and, after receiving my results in March, I was thrilled to hear I had passed with a distinction! By this point, I was hooked and decided to continue my quest by taking on the MSc. So back to the application process I went, but this time with a real sense of confidence in knowing what I was capable of.

Prof Atul Kalhan, Course Director, Endocrinology
Prof Atul Kalhan, Course Director, Endocrinology

Application accepted and funding approved, I was now able to study for my MSc. Then came the news at work of a new Endocrinology Ward opening in December, so with my new sense of confidence and a spring in my step, I applied for the position of Ward Manager. Yet another success – luck seemed to be on my side! Receiving the news that I had been given the job, I felt a mixture of emotions. I was really proud of how far I’d come, but I was mindful that I was about to have a new ward to manage whilst beginning module two of the MSc.

With no other option, I dove straight in!

I started my thesis and all was well, slow but steady, doing a little every day and feeling confident in my work. Unfortunately, my luck took a bit of a turn when my mother had to undergo surgery. She came to live with me for her recovery, which was no problem at all, until I suffered a cervical disc bulge at work. I was in unimaginable pain and had to take sick leave from the ward, but I endeavoured to continue with my studies. Then, with only two weeks to go, my partner broke his ankle leaving me as his carer, along with my mother and four teenagers, all whilst on sick leave myself!

It was a really tough month, but I was adamant that I would finish the MSc on time.

My thesis was due on the very same day that my partner was taken in for his ankle surgery. I ended up pressing the ‘submit’ button from my laptop at his bedside, with only twenty minutes to spare. Afterwards, I was filled with relief and able to focus on giving my family some much needed TLC. I couldn’t quite believe I was there, but I’d finally completed my two year MSc.

Mary Joyce at Graduation
Mary Joyce at Graduation

My partner and I attended the graduation ceremony at the University of South Wales in December 2018. I felt such immense pride walking across the stage. Being awarded my degree in front of so many people, dressed in my cap and gown, was most certainly a moment to remember.

I have achieved so much since starting this course and it’s really boosted my confidence, particularly at work with my colleagues and patients, but also in myself and my own abilities. I still pinch myself to think I have completed a master’s level course in a subject I have grown to love so much. I will always be incredibly grateful for the nursing management, who have always encouraged me to look into personal development. I now hope to be able to show my staff the same kindness, as it really has changed my life.