Aoife Kiernan

Aoife Kiernan

MSc International Business ’17

After completing business and general nursing degrees concurrently, Aoife Kiernan followed up with a master’s at Smurfit – on an Aspire scholarship –where she was named student of the year. She now combines all of this learning in her role as a healthcare advisory consultant at EY.

About Aoife Kiernan

Tell us about your education and career to date

In 2012, I started studying general nursing at NUI Galway and when I went into my second year I also took up a part-time business management degree in Galway Business School. I finished the business degree in June 2016 and the nursing degree three months later and then went off to do my master’s in international business in Smurfit on an Aspire scholarship.

Between my studies in Galway Business School and Smurfit I feel like I have a good grasp on the business side but I wanted to bring my health experience along that same journey because I really saw the benefit of the master’s study. This led me to start a master’s in healthcare management in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland last year.  This course will give me the healthcare management focused academic learning and  experience I am looking for.

My career to date includes an internship with EY when I was in my third year of nursing. I wanted to get a feel for consultancy when I was making decisions around what I would do afterwards. I really enjoyed it, thriving in the diverse, forward-thinking and fast-paced environment

My nursing career spanned across acute and community healthcare settings in the west of Ireland before I took up a role in care of the elderly and then worked as an agency nurse.

I loved nursing and I think it’s a fantastic career. My mother is a nurse and we have a strong passion for science and medicine in the family. However, in Ireland today it’s very difficult to do what you go into nursing to do, which is give the optimum care to patients in the optimum environment. That’s just not facilitated right now. Rather than practising nursing at a clinical level I felt I could add more value with my experience and education through the provision of healthcare consultancy services.  

This led me to leave clinical nursing and take up my current role as a healthcare  advisory consultant at EY in September 2017.

Tell us about that role

It’s a project and programme management role with a healthcare lens. The work involves the provision of services such as project management, ICT, innovation, strategy and many more depending on the specifications of the individual project. We work with private and public sector healthcare clients nationally and internationally. I typically work with hospitals and over the last two years have been lucky to work on the first two new public hospitals in Ireland in more than 20 years.  

What motivates you?

I get a huge amount of motivation from my mum and dad. They are forever inspiring and encouraging me to do what I love and to try new things. Being the youngest of six also definitely motivates me in different ways, both professionally and personally. Having five siblings who have “been there and done that” certainly makes it easier to capture lessons learned quickly and get an insight into an array of careers as well as driving each other on.   I am also very lucky to have a supportive partner, James, who motivates me through his driven and hardworking approach.

The Aspire scholarship donors responsible for me being able to study in Smurfit have also been a huge motivation to do well and continue to do so. I hope someday to be in a position to help people like they helped me. It really was such a fantastic stepping stone and an incredible opportunity that I would love to be able to give someone else.

Outside of these, social change is also a motivator in terms of my actions and what I do day-to-day. Looking at what we can do to make things better and not accepting how things are was a massive steer for how I ended up in the work I’m doing.

What is your leadership style?

I have a transformational leadership style. I’ve worked in various settings with various people with different styles. I try to take a little bit from the parts I like and learn from the parts that maybe I don’t work best under. Adapting a transformational leadership style involves working with a big focus on social systems to create positive and valued change.

I also believe it’s important to make sure you’re enabling followers to become leaders at a later stage. So I try to work closely with any graduates that I can to try and help them on this journey so they don’t just accept the norm. It’s about constantly challenging and asking questions about how things could be done better. I try to gear my leadership style towards that.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

It was definitely being named the Smurfit Student of the Year for 2018. It was amazing to demonstrate to the Aspire donors what can be achieved when they give so generously to scholars every year. I was delighted to be able to reaffirm the opportunities that they make possible to students (not that they needed it!).  

The second one was finishing my two degrees at once. It was a very big challenge and required a huge amount of work but it was worth it. My mum and my sister, Grace, were the only people who didn’t think it was a crazy idea to do both at the same time. But often when people say something doesn’t make sense, I’ll ask why that is and if it’s just because it isn’t usually done then you know you are on to something very interesting.

Doing the two degrees left me with a platform where I have double the learning with the benefits of the two disciplines feeding into each other massively. There isn’t an obvious resemblance in nursing and business, but it’s massive. There’s significant overlap there.

What failures have you learnt from?

When I was in school I was initially quite studious but in my Leaving Cert year I became very demotivated and I ended up getting very few points so didn’t get offered anything I wanted to study on the CAO. I was lucky that I managed to get into the Institute of Education and repeated my Leaving Cert there. The Institute was the start of the journey for  me where I began to really love education. Being given a sense of autonomy in my learning by the excellent group of teachers really worked for me and motivated me to want to learn.  

What are your tips for success?

Do what you love. I thought about where I wanted to be and how I’d get there. By asking yourself what you really want to do and where you want to be, you’re teeing yourself up for the optimum result. You may not necessarily achieve exactly what you set out to do – you may take a side line and end up on a better route – but it’s encouraging and focusing to have  a path to set yourself on and set your goals on. That’s what I did and I think it worked for me.

My second tip would be to be open about your skillset. Just because you have a degree with a certain title doesn’t mean you are destined to work in the typically associated job of that degree.  It doesn’t have to be a path well-travelled to be a great journey.

What are your plans for the future?

I have one-year, five-year and 10-year plans which sometimes change. The one I had last year didn’t have the master’s in the RCSI and now I’m in it and I love it. I didn’t see it happening but I’m delighted that it did.

I’ve massive aspirations to continue on learning both professionally and academically and plan to do an MBA in the next five to 10  years. I would like to gain more industry experience before I pursue my MBA programme.  I also hope to start my own company in the next few years.

Insight Track

How has your degree benefited your career?

My degrees have hugely benefited my career making it possible for me to pursue my career of choice.

How important is your UCD alumni network to you?

The UCD Smurfit alumni is such a great network to be part of. I met so many brilliant people through Smurfit who I stay in touch with regularly.

What do you do in your spare time?

I have a lovely niece and nephew and I like to spend a lot of time with them and the rest of my family. I’ve started a little challenge with my sisters and we’re spurring each other on to run the marathon later this year. James and I will also be doing a triathlon this year which should be fun – I just need to learn how to swim first! I also have been horse riding for many years and am hoping to compete in an amateur race in the next year.

What is your favourite band or musician?

Picture This.

What is your favourite dish to cook?

Puy lentil dahl from the Happy Pear

What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?

Salthill in Galway because it is full of brilliant memories and is a great place to run.

Where do you go to relax?

The kitchen table at home, where all the best thoughts are talked out!

Name three things on your bucket list

Sky dive, win a race in Cheltanham,  take a trip on Virgin Galactic.

What charities or causes are closest to your heart?
Ability Equine Assisted Therapy based in Meath, which provides unique therapies to enhance the quality of life of children and adults through horse therapy.


 January 2019