More than 800 Leaving Certificate students attended an open day at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) on Thursday and most said they were hoping to become doctors.
Sixth-year secondary student Mackenzie O'Connor knows what a career in medicine will entail.
“I’ve heard that the health service isn’t the best, but I really want to make a difference,” she said at the RCSI open day.
At age 16, she is younger than most preparing for Leaving Certificate and the HPAT. O’Connor skipped transition year to attend the Institute of Education, so she could keep moving towards her dream of becoming a doctor.
“I didn’t want a break. I needed to keep going,” she said.
She is the first in her family to pursue medicine, so she spent years researching the profession.
“Everything I read about it I’m just like yes, yes, yes,” she said. “It sounds really tough and hard work, but I think someone has to help.”
The RCSI’s €80 million building, which opened in 2018, is “state of the art” and privately funded.
“Are there many breaks between lectures?” one aspiring medic asked.
Waiting to enter a plaster-casting workshop, Adib Collot (16), a transition-year student from Yeats College Galway, has the medical profession in his blood. He chose his career at the age of four, when his mother gave birth to his brother and he got a sense of hospitals for the first time.
“I know I would have to learn to deal with stress, but I think being a doctor would be so exciting,” he said.
Knowing that places in medicine are highly competitive, he is spurred on by a poster in his bedroom that reads: “I want to be a doctor.”
He aims for “a taste of all of the specialities” before settling on one area of medicine.
“I’m just so interested in the human body,” he said. “I’ve always been curious.”
In a mock-delivery room, a group of teens hovered awkwardly around Lucinda, the RCSI’s €75,000 birthing mannequin.
Clinical skills and simulation technician Rebecca Kirrane instructed students to check Lucinda’s pulse.
She appointed a girl to “pull the baby’s head”, while another student to monitor the mother’s vital signs on a laptop.
Lucinda was beside herself: “Is everything alright with my baby?” she screamed.
One student fainted in the delivery room, which an RCSI spokesperson said was “not uncommon”.
Some of the students had never heard of the HSE. “Does the ‘H’ stand for health?” one of them asked.
However, many had researched the field. Best-selling book This is Going to Hurt, written by a junior doctor in Britain's cash-strapped NHS, Adam, Kay, is a popular read among the dedicated hopefuls.
The RCSI’s fourth-year students have, by now, experienced Ireland’s healthcare system first hand.
Ciara Malone (22) is due to graduate in 2020 and hopes to gain an internship in an Irish hospital.
“When you go into the hospitals you see the world. The hospitals are completely underfunded and overcrowded, which puts all this into perspective,” she said, gesturing to the RCSI facilities around her.
“I might have to emigrate to the UK for paediatric surgery, because there are more opportunities to specialise there.” She explained that emigration is common for graduates looking to gain fellowships and to become expert in a specific field, but that most of the RCSI’s Irish graduates hope to end up working in Ireland.
Prof Arnold Hill, head of the school of medicine, believes there is "a real positive" in graduates learning from hospitals abroad.
“The graduates coming back from Australia are more enlivened, more energised. We strategically try to recruit that Irish cohort back,” he said.
He emphasised that the RCSI was not just teaching students a degree but a career, pushing them into Irish hospitals from their first year of training.
“It looks glamorous, but it teaches students how to practise in a real-life environment,” he said.