Case study: Choosing a health sciences course

Health science courses are vocational in nature and students are advised to focus on potential career paths

If you’re studyng pharmacy, you might work behind the counter in the local pharmacy, you might choose from a larger set of careers available in the pharmaceutical industry or you could work as a hospital pharmacist. Photograph: iStock

What if a student is broadly interested in health sciences, but is struggling to make a choice? We caught up with Philip Curtis, director of admissions and student recruitment at RCSI, and Céleste Golden, admissions officer at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland. RCSI specialises in health science courses with medicine, advanced therapeutic technology, pharmacy and physiotherapy among its undergraduate offering.

“If you want to work in health sciences, some of the other courses besides medicine can be less challenging in terms of work-life balance,” Curtis says. “They have less postgraduate careers and allow you to get settled into a career structure.”

Curtis points out that health science courses are vocational in nature, so it makes sense for students to pay attention to career routes.

“If, for instance, you’re studying medicine, you can either be a physician or a surgeon, and you may work in a hospital or a community or primary health care setting. If you’re studying pharmacy, there can be a sense you’ll be behind the counter in the local pharmacy, but there are a larger set of careers available in the pharmaceutical industry or as a hospital pharmacist. Physiotherapists, meanwhile, could be in a hospital, or working in a sports or community setting.


“Think also of the work you will do: our advanced therapeutics course is focused on healthcare but is not directly patient-facing, so is a good fit for many.”

Curtis says that he always advises students to prepare early, and ideally to use their transition year to take part in programmes, including mini-medicine and mini-pharmacy programmes where students visit RCSI.

Although the deadline for adding a medicine course has closed, students can still change their order of preference.

“The structure of medicine courses and the style of teaching can be very different in the different medical schools,” says Curtis.

“We have a very multicultural environment here, we are research active and our staff and students collaborate on research. We are also focused on experiential learning, and have a simulation facility.”

Golden says that there is always some movement around CAO Change of Mind.

“Have good, considered conversations with people you trust, and don’t make rash choices. Additional places have been added on programmes, which makes it harder to base decisions on last year’s points. Remember that there are many paths to medicine, including graduate and mature entry.”