It is never too late to turn your life around and achieve your dreams. Laura McManus, who fell pregnant at 16 and failed her GCSEs, is now on her way to becoming a doctor and she says you can do it too.
Growing up on a council estate, Laura McManus believed people like her couldn’t be doctors.
Her mum died when she was just three and at school she felt people looked down on her because of her upbringing.
Describing herself as a ‘rebellious teenager,’ she fell pregnant at 16 and lived in a hostel with her son and her then boyfriend.
But by the age of 23, Laura decided to chase her dream of helping people so she finished her GCSEs, and completed her A-levels at Preston’s College.
Three years down the line, she enrolled at Lancaster University’s Medical School to study medicine and surgery.
After graduating this summer, she has started her new post as junior doctor at Royal Preston Hospital, where she works on various wards and A&E, helping consultants and admitting, assessing and discharging patients.
The 31-year-old, who now lives in Penwortham, says: “My mum died following a tragic accident when I was three. My dad, Chris, and I lived on our own.
“Growing up without a mum was difficult. I used to miss out on certain things and that was upsetting.
“Both myself and my dad suffered hydrocephalus, which caused a lot of headaches and I wanted to fix it.
“So from an early age, at primary school, I wanted to be a doctor.
“I lived on a council estate in Greenlands, Preston, and it became obvious that children off council estates don’t become doctors.
“I remember feeling the teachers knocked me, as if that would ever happen.
“I think that was when maybe the grief has set in, as going to high school, I was always getting into trouble. I became angry and rebellious as I thought that was how to deal with my grief.
“I didn’t attend school much and so got kicked out of Longridge High School at 15. I sat some GCSEs but failed most of them.
“My dad tried to be supportive but it was very turbulent as I was a teenager rebelling.
“Then I got pregnant at 16 and lived in hostels with my son, Byron, and his dad.
“It was very difficult as I had to rely on food banks. Life was very unsettled and my relationship with my son’s father was not good at all. It was very volatile and we split up when my son was two.
“Once we got our own place, things began to settle down. I had a few jobs, such as cleaning, working in a chippy and care work before I decided I needed to make a better life for myself and my son.”
Laura looked into her options but realised she was limited having failed her GCSEs, until a chemistry teacher at Preston’s College saw her potential and decided to help her.
She recalls: “I knew I wanted to do something with science, as it was always my passion in school. However, medicine still felt like it wasn’t within the reach of someone like myself.
“I researched what I needed to do to get into university and at the age of 23, I learnt about A-levels.
“I had never heard of them before as no one in my family had done them before.
“I begged Preston’s College to let me do A-levels without the GCSE requirements and after a few makeshift tests, Dr John Young, the A-level chemistry teacher, decided he would give me a shot and let me start A-levels in chemistry, maths, biology and AS geography.
“During my first year, my biology teacher, Melanie Ashcroft, asked me what I wanted to do. I jokingly said I wanted to be a doctor but that wasn’t an option.
“She asked me why not and she encouraged me to apply for medicine.
“I then got in touch Dr Karen Grant at Lancaster Medical School, based at Lancaster University, and explained my unique circumstances in the fact I didn’t have the GCSE requirements. She helped me and advised me of what I can do.
“So, during my A2 year at Preston’s College, I had to sit five GCSEs as well as the three A-levels and one AS.
“I did my English and maths at Preston’s College and I sat biology, chemistry and physics as a private candidate through a local high school and taught myself the curriculum.
“I got all A* at GCSE and all As with my A-levels and proceeded to be successful with my application and interviews for medical school.
“I am 100 per cent grateful for Preston’s College, as if they had not given me a shot to do my A-levels without my GCSEs, I would never have got as far as I did.”
Laura’s struggles were far from over as during her five years of study, she was hit with eviction, family deaths and a breast cancer scare.
She adds: “I had a lot of difficulties during my medical degree.
“In my first year, I had a breast cancer scare and I had to have my breast ducts removed, but luckily it was not cancer. I didn’t have much time off as I was terrified of failing my exams.
“I lost a few family members and in my third year, I was evicted. I was living in a privately rented house in Penwortham, but the landlord needed the house back, so I had to move in with my dad, who has been very supportive.
“Staff at Lancaster Medical School have supported me all the way through. There have been a lot of tears, especially during exams and I fainted twice.
“It has been really emotional, but I am over the moon I have finally qualified as Dr McManus.”
Laura says she is sharing her story as she wants to prove to people who may not have had the best start in life that they can achieve their goals.
She adds: “I would like to highlight the inequalities of people from my background and hopefully inspire someone to dream big and go for it, even when you feel the world is against you and that things can’t improve.
“When I see people from my childhood, I am constantly told, ‘you must be really clever, I could never do anything like that, I’m just not clever enough.’
“But it could not be further from the truth. It’s just they haven’t had the same opportunities or support and instead, they have faced multiple hardships and faced discrimination at every turn in their lives.
“They are clever enough and they are capable, if they are given the right support and the self belief that they are able and deserving of achieving more, they can achieve what they want.”