Career guide: Health Science

Choosing the healthy option can offer rich rewards

Ina Woods, Lab Manager of the RCSI Physiology & Medical Physics Department

Ina Woods, Lab Manager of the RCSI Physiology & Medical Physics Department

 

Have you always wanted to be a doctor, nurse or dentist? Maybe you made up potions in your make-believe pharmacy? Or perhaps it’s an idea you’ve only flirted with as the Leaving Cert draws to an end.

Either way, health science courses are among the most competitive of all CAO choices. Unless you sat the HPat in March, it’s too late to change your CAO form to include a medicine course. But it’s not too late to choose nursing, dentistry, pharmacy or physiotherapy.

These can be challenging courses, with varying financial rewards. It’s fair to say nursing graduates are relatively underpaid given their important work, but there are higher levels of pay in pharmacy and dentistry.

Where to study

Trinity CollegeNUI GalwayGalway-Mayo ITDundalkLetterkenny ITAthlone IT

Some students may be interested in a specialised nursing degree: psychiatric nursing is available at Athlone IT, Galway-Mayo IT, Dundalk IT, Letterkenny IT, UCC, DCU, NUI Galway, UCD, and Waterford IT.

Options for intellectual disability nursing include DCU, Dundalk IT, St Angela’s College, Sligo, UCC, UL, Letterkenny IT, and Waterford IT. DCU offers an integrated children and general nursing degree. And students interested in midwifery can choose courses at Dundalk IT, NUI Galway, Trinity College, UCC, UCD, and UL.

There are only two places you can study undergraduate dentistry: UCC and Trinity, while Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) has post-graduate dentistry courses. Dental nursing can be undertaken at Trinity College (level 7) and Athlone IT (level 6).

Physiotherapy students can opt for RCSI, Trinity, UCD, or UL. DCU has a course in athletic therapy and training.

Pharmacy students, who will mostly work in dispensing medicine to patients or in the pharmaceutical industry, can choose between Trinity, UCD and RCSI.

Trinity offers a degree in medicinal chemistry where graduates gain an understanding of molecular chemistry and biology and work in the design and preparation of new drugs.

Pharmaceutical science courses, which do not qualify graduates to dispense medicine but train them for careers in research and development, and lab analysis in the pharmacy industry, can be taken at Waterford IT and Athlone IT. Level 6 pharmacy technician courses are available at IT Carlow, DIT, Athlone IT, and Letterkenny IT.

Career opportunities

Jane Lonergan

Nurses don’t just work in hospitals; they also work in community settings, general practice, nursing homes, hospices, and in the armed forces. Nurses may also travel with NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders. Some nurses choose to specialise and do post-graduate study.

It’s still difficult for physiotherapists to find suitable work in Ireland, although this has eased slightly, particularly in the past year. Most still emigrate. Once in employment, however, there are good career prospects.

Dentists are often self-employed. Some pursue post-graduate training and specialise in orthodontics, paediatric dentistry or periodontics. Unemployment is very rare.

Salary expectations

Physiotherapists’ starting salary is about € 30,000, but this can rise to more than € 70,000 for HSE-employed physiotherapists in senior management.

Dentists have a high average starting salary, earning € 50,000 a year on graduation; this figure rises substantially with experience, and some dentists or consultants in successful private practice can earn more than € 200,000 a year.

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