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Alumni Story: An Interview with Emma Biggar BSc General Nursing

Thursday, 10 August, 2023

Emma Biggar

Emma qualified as a nurse in 2019 and worked as a nurse for the NHS on a cardiothoracic oncology surgical ward in London for just over a year. Emma recently completed a MSc in Business Management in the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and currently works in a FinTech startup, called Paytrix. Emma’s current role is centred around managing a sales team and working on strategic opportunities.

What led you to study nursing?

My family had a nursing home so I had been in the nursing home and a healthcare environment since I was able to walk. When I was in transition year in school, I did a Fetac level 5 Health Care Assistant course. I worked as a health care assistant through school so when it came to the CAO I was deciding between nursing and medicine. I decided to go for nursing because I liked the aspect that nurses work extremely close with the patients. Working in healthcare has been at the forefront of our family, even my aunts and grandparents worked in it. 

You graduated in 2019 with a BSc in Nursing, moving to London to work as a nurse for the NHS, you then changed career paths and recently completed an MSc in Management from the Smurfit Graduate Business School. Could you tell us a little bit more about the pivot from nursing to business/tech? 

When I graduated I decided I wanted to go to Australia and travel by myself for 6 weeks, it was one of the best things I ever did. I then decided I wanted to move away from home but not go too far away so London seemed like the next step. My dad is Scottish and I had grandparents an hour outside of London that I could visit. I got a job working in a cardiothoracic oncology surgical ward in Guys Hospital and I absolutely loved it. I have a longterm illness called Juvenile Dermatomyositis that requires me to get a drip once a month. Unfortunately, the NHS didn’t cover the medication so when COVID-19 happened it meant that I would have to work for two weeks and then quarantine for two weeks so it wasn’t going to be sustainable. It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to do a masters in business management that would benefit me if I wanted to stay in nursing or if I wanted to completely change my career. So the timing just worked out, originally it was going to be full-time but I moved back early as I got a job in sales so decided to do the masters part-time instead. My boss from that role then started a company called Paytrix that I’m now working for and really enjoying. 

You mentioned you have a long-term illness. How did find navigating through college and in the hospital with it?

I was diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyositis when I was 3. It’s an autoimmune disease that effects the skin and muscle inflammation. It is quite rare. I suffer really badly with tiredness and I catch colds or bugs easier than the average person so it got to a point where I couldn’t do night shifts and when I was in training, the hospital was really obliging.

The School was also extremely accommodating with extenuating circumstances and helping facilitate me in any way possible. I would say to anyone with a similar long term illness if you really want to do nursing, try it. I also know a handful of nurses with other conditions that are well accommodated in their roles.

From a social perspective, I definitely enjoyed going out during college but I wasn’t able to go on all of the nights out or holidays. I didn’t feel held back as my friends were really understanding and didn’t push me to go out all the time.

What are your fondest memories from your time at UCD both as an undergraduate nursing student and a postgraduate business student? 

For my undergrad, my fondest memory is probably making great friends, there’s about 8 of us in a group (a mix of graduates who did their training in Vincent's and the Mater) and we’ve still stayed so close. The graduation ball that we organised also stands out.

From my masters, the business simulation project was really interesting. It allowed us to get to learn from fellow classmates that have varying backgrounds, careers and are at different life stages.

Did you gain any transferable skills or knowledge from your nursing experience that you use in your current career or personal life?

I think I gained a lot of relationship building and interpersonal skills from my degree that I use today. I also think working in a fast paced environment and executing tasks with a sense of urgency has stood to me. I know I wasn’t a nurse for long but I had some very intense experiences especially during COVID-19, working on a lung cancer ward, so I think that helps me assess and deal with challenges in my current life and career effectively. 

Did you witness anything during the COVID-19 pandemic which made you particularly proud to be a nurse at the time? 

The general sense of community in London while I was working as a frontline worker. 

What is the proudest moment(s) of your career to date? 

Getting the job in the NHS, I really wanted an oncology ward. After the interview, I got the call within 15 minutes with the job offer. I’m also proud of the level of trust that I have with certain elements of my current role considering I’m still in an early stage of my career.

What have been the most challenging aspects of your career?

I experienced a lot as a nurse and it was very intense at times with how sick people were. Losing patients was very hard.

In your career and/or personal life, who have been the most inspiring or helpful mentors/advisors that you’ve had to date?

From a health care perspective, my mum and family. My boss Eddie, has been amazing from a career development perspective and he’s a really good mentor. 

What advice would you give to someone in the healthcare industry considering a career change? 

Explore your options and ask advice from people. You can also get career advice from UCD. I always had an interest in the corporate world and getting different perspectives on life which is why I went along to a couple of agency related talks about career switches even as a nursing student. At the end of the day, there’s always going to be opportunities in nursing and it’s something you could get back into. You just don’t want to have regrets.

What do you do to relax? Tell us a bit about your current life, family and hobbies. 

I’m really big into tennis and golf. I love hanging out with friends and family and I also love travelling. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 

  • If you’re thinking about a career change, go for it, you’ve nothing to lose
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice

Contact the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health Systems

Health Sciences Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4
T: +353 1 716 6488 | Location Map(opens in a new window)