School of Health & Society 28.05.24

Top marks for Salford student who lost her mum and had two children while completing her degree

Physiotherapy student Emily Hargreaves has graduated with the best grades of anyone on her course at the University of Salford, despite having two babies and tragically losing her own mother during her studies.

Emily originally became interested in physiotherapy after suffering a knee injury whilst training for a marathon, but was already completing a history PhD at the time. Feeling that she had gone too far down her current career path to change her mind, Emily threw herself into teaching, whilst also becoming a fitness instructor and mentoring other students. 

She assumed she would have to give up on her ambitions to become a physiotherapist. 

Some years later, Emily’s mother unfortunately became ill. Emily says: “This gave me an epiphany that life is too short not to pursue your dream and I started to look for work experience opportunities in my local NHS trust. 

“Going to university full time was not a possibility, so I took a job as a physiotherapy assistant, and luckily within months a trainee physiotherapy position opened up. This gave me the opportunity I needed to work and learn at the same time, and I was so grateful to be studying at the University of Salford because it offered a really flexible part time option.”

Sadly, Emily’s mother became sick again while Emily was in her first year of the course. “My mum was really ill as her cancer progressed. Some of her final words to me before she passed away were: 'Emily, don't give up'. This helped to fuel my determination to succeed. 

“I didn't know it before the course started, but the University of Salford has become my family; I've made some great friends here. Going through the trauma of losing my mum just before I gave birth, it would have been easy to give up, but every step of the way I felt 100% supported with lots of options presented to me to help me find my way through. 

“Thanks to my tutors, I was able to carry on with my degree through my maternity leave. I continued to express milk using the breastfeeding room at university while my baby attended the on-site nursery. The tutors and university just made it all as easy as possible. 

“During my second pregnancy I have unfortunately been unwell and struggling trying to look after a two-year-old, but again all the tutors were there for me every step of the way to give me advice. I can be a real perfectionist and they reminded me I didn't need to be perfect because I'm human!”

Emily also found that the practical aspects of the course and the teaching she received helped her grow in confidence. “I appreciate the academic standard of the tutors, who provide clinical and academic teaching to such an excellent level. I loved that they always gave really constructive feedback which pushed me to develop and grow. Even when I got high grades, the tutors always told me how to improve and always wanted the best for me.”

Studying at Salford has had a huge impact on Emily’s life, and she feels that despite coming to university as a ‘mature student’, she has matured even more through her course. “The process of academic reflection, which is encouraged on the course from day one, has really helped me grow as a person. Many of those we treat are coming from really difficult circumstances due to health or social contexts and having empathy and a non-judgemental approach is vital. 

“During my studies I’ve also completed a leadership module which enabled me to work with the Northern Care Alliance and Health Education England. This gave me an opportunity to broaden my perspective of where physiotherapists can work and showcase some of the project management skills I developed during my PhD.”

Emily already has a job lined up and is looking forward to experiencing everything her new role will have to offer. But she is also keen to give something back. “In future I would love to play a role in helping others in their training, and improving the services offered by the NHS. Mentoring is really important to me, and I would hope in future to be mentoring in a formal capacity.”

But for now, Emily is pleased just to be able to celebrate her graduation with her family – including her new baby, who is only a few weeks old. “I have achieved my dream and have two beautiful babies and a lovely home. If I could go back and speak to myself on day one of my studies, I’d say, ‘Dream big because nothing is impossible. You're going to make your Mum proud so don't be so tough on yourself!’”