Medical graduates: ‘the money is terrible, the job is terrible’

Optimism fades to reality at the Health Sector Jobs Fair in Dublin

Jack Cairns plans to use his newly acquired medical qualification to see the world. "I just want to travel. Start over in England and slowly move across the world as the years go on," he says in visibly good humour at the prospect of the new life that awaits him.

There appears to be lots of opportunity too. Cairns, a 24-year-old Trinity graduate, is surrounded by pop-up stands offering all kinds of options at the Health Sector Jobs Fair in Dublin.

As a newly qualified occupational therapist he has choices and doesn’t seem too concerned about finding his way.

“[In college] people talk about what they are going to do, not about how to get the job to do it,” he says with an expected air of youthful enthusiasm.


But the jobs fair is symptomatic of much more than just opportunity. Many of the hundreds of nurses and medical professionals passing through the RDS on Saturday are doing so out of sheer necessity. Youthful optimism fades to rigid reality.

“It’s not very nice, there is very low morale,” says Aoife, a general nurse who has been working for two years in Dublin but now resigned to packing her bags.

“The job itself is just too much. The money is terrible and the job is terrible. It’s just too stressful.”

She hopes to improve on her salary of just under €30,000 and becomes instantly cheerful as she begins to talk about Australia.

Her friend Ellen has been working in midwifery and both women say there are people in their lives, making emigration a more complex option. But here they are.

“It’s just too understaffed at the minute. And for what you do and the stress level, you are not getting rewarded enough. The senior nurses say they have never seen it as bad. Ever,” Ellen says.

“I love the job itself but I don’t like the conditions. A lot of our friends are gone already and that makes it a little bit easier.”

The theme of Irish nurses training and automatically leaving has played out almost constantly in recent times and the Health Sector Jobs Fair offers a quick glimpse of their world.

On Saturday, 49 exhibitors attempted to attract workers from the sector. A slight majority were from overseas, primarily Australia and across the UK.

Among those hiring in Ireland were Bon Secours, the Coombe Hospital, Hermitage Medical Clinic, Lauralynn Children's Hospice, Nursing Homes Ireland, St John of Gods and St Vincent's University Hospital.

Health Sector Jobs, which runs the fair, pitched it against a context of “pay restoration claims and complaints of earning less than the minimum wage as well as long hours and overcrowding” in Irish hospitals.

Stephen McLarnon said there was “no strategy to retain staff and keep Irish healthcare talent”, a familiar criticism.

But it is not unique to Ireland according to Claire Rigby, deputy clinical business manager for outpatient therapy at Aintree University Hospital, a major trauma centre in the UK.

Ms Rigby and her colleagues - hoping to bag nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and radiologists - were interviewing and offering jobs on the spot.

“I think the [recruitment and retention] challenges are very similar in England. We have a number of vacancies. We are trying to recruit people from the same pool,” she said.

Graduate nurses at AUH can earn between £22,000 and £26,000 (€24,500 and €29,000) through annual increments while someone specialised with about 10 years experience can earn between £39,000 and £46,000 (€43,000 and €51,000).

The HSE says its National Recruitment Service has a rolling campaign ensuring qualified nurses can apply for posts at any time, while its ongoing “Bring them Home” campaign offers packages to tempt nurses working abroad.

There are options but not often a lot of optimism. An Irish occupational therapist who qualified in June, and who requested anonymity, estimated that of her 35 classmates, at least half are now looking overseas and only about four have jobs in Ireland.

“It’s woeful, it’s terrible,” she says. “We studied so hard for four years and it’s such a tough degree.

“You come out and you are so excited and you have to apply for jobs you don’t want because there is nothing [available]. And then you have to think about going away.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times