Northern Ireland

Nursing: Three sisters make late career changes

The Mehaffy sisters Kim Murdock, Kellie Mehaffy and Sara Mehaffy, with their mother Deborah Mehaffy
Image caption Late bloomers: The Mehaffy sisters (from left) Kim Murdock, Kellie Mehaffy and Sara Mehaffy, with their mother Deborah Mehaffy (second left)

She did not know it, but a kind district nurse who held Sara Mehaffy's hand as her father lay dying, changed her life forever.

That nurse was a stranger, but her compassion at a pivotal moment set Ms Mehaffy, 35, on a whole new path.

That was four years ago.

Her father was dying of cancer and, in the early morning, she noticed a change in his breathing, so she rang and the nurse came.

"It was in the early hours," she recalled.

"She came and she held my hand.

"She did not know me or my father, but she (was) so warm and so lovely, she truly inspired me."

Now Ms Mehaffy, a mother of three from Lisburn, has just completed the first year of her nursing degree at Queen's University.

"It's definitely what I want to do," she told BBC News NI. "The placements are brilliant. I would really like to do hospice nursing."

Family campus?

Ms Mehaffy is one of three sisters who have all found late vocations in the caring profession.

Image caption Sara Mehaffy went to university as a mature student

All were surprised by an ambition that took them into nursing as mature students.

Ms Mehaffy's eldest sister, Kim Murdock, 43, is a midwife at Belfast's Royal Jubilee hospital.

Her other sister, Kellie Mehaffy, 40, is about to begin her nursing degree at Queen's University.

All three sisters returned to college as mature students, studying at the South Eastern Regional College's Lisburn campus, where their mother was also a student.

Making dreams a reality

Kellie Mehaffy, a mother of four, said she left school at 16 without many qualifications and started her family.

Image caption Kellie Mehaffy said she left school without many qualifications

Years later, as she waved her youngest child goodbye at the primary one classroom door, she decided it was time to make her dream a reality.

She took a place on an access course at Lisburn college and loved it.

"I always wanted to be a nurse," she said. "But I was very nervous to go back to do a two-year access course."

"At school it was not cool to learn, now you learn in a different way and I really enjoyed it.

"The hardest part was juggling family life, but everyone was on board."

As she set out to do her final exams for her ticket to university, she was in good company.

"I was revising with my 15-year-old daughter - she was doing her GCSEs and I was doing my access course," she said.

Big sister, Ms Murdock, was the first to go into nursing - the pathfinder.

"I thought that maybe I was too old at 36... but it's never too late to be what you want to be," she said.

Image caption Ms Murdock was the family's trailblazer

She graduated in December from Queen's, having started work as a midwife in September.

She said it was tough studying and juggling her life as a mother-of-four, but fulfilling her dream has made it worthwhile.

"I always wanted to be a midwife, but I never felt I was good enough," she said.

After 21 years working as an optician's receptionist, she decided it was time for change.

"Our mother was a big influence," she said. "She reared us, then she went back to tech and to university, she oozes positivity and we followed her.

"I'm loving life at the minute, I'm not wearing rose-tinted glasses but I want to be there for families in my work as a midwife."

Recent figures suggest that studying nursing attracts a wide range of students.

Only a third go to Queen's University straight from school.

Another third have a degree already and the final third are students coming through access courses who often have valuable life skills to bring to the profession.

The Mehaffy sisters would say they are proof it is never too late to find a true vocation.

"It is so possible, don't underestimate yourself," said Kellie Mehaffy.

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