Graduating doctors: ‘It is possible to have kids and complete medical school’

Medical student graduates from RCSI after giving birth on day of final exam

Dr Connie Dale celebrates receiving her final year results from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences with her son Odhran

Dr Connie Dale celebrates receiving her final year results from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences with her son Odhran

 

The final exam is a daunting prospect for any medical student, but for Connie Dale it was also the day she was due to give birth to her second child.

With classes pushed online due to the pandemic, it wasn’t until she noticed the clash that Dale (25) felt she needed to inform her college she was pregnant.

“The school had been trying to work around Covid, but they were not planning on working around a labour and delivery… I was calling Holles Street trying to get induced early,” she says.

On Friday she graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) along with 320 other new doctors from 33 countries.

Dale, who is from Minnesota in the United States, was not planning to have two children while also studying as a postgraduate to become a doctor.

Aged 22, she was aware of the long journey towards becoming a doctor: “I actually went to get my eggs frozen… The doctor said I didn’t have much time left,” she says.

From there Dale’s world was “turned upside down and full of babies”, with two sons arriving 15 months apart. Studying, hospital placements and exams would “not have been possible” without the support of her Kerry husband, she says.

The young mother feels it is important to highlight to other women that “it is possible to have kids and complete medical school”.

“Quite frankly the medical training here in Ireland is meant for young, single Irish men. You are expected to move around every six months. With preschool kids it is just not doable. Ideally that will change in the future.”

She was close to throwing in the towel when on placement at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, and could not find a place to breastfeed her first son, Otto, who was six weeks old at the time. The problem was solved when consultant obstetrician Declan Keane lent her the key to his office where she could go.

“That was the moment where I decided I could do this; I could be a mom and continue with medical school. He made the entire difference to my education and my life. Sometimes you need that bit of help,” she says.

Dale has no intention of taking long-overdue maternity leave, as she is excited to get stuck into work as an intern when her youngest son, Odhran, is three months old: “There is no room for a break… It is full steam ahead. We are just going to get on with it.”

Also celebrating the end of a hectic period of study, work and family life was mature student Desmond Killick (30), who worked as a nurse throughout his first four years at the college. Killick knew he was taking on a big commitment before beginning the five-year journey, as he would have to continue to earn while also starting a family.

“You have to take it one day at a time… I suppose I just got on with it. I would study when the kids were asleep and we would lean on family members around the big exams,” he says.

While he hopes to be able to celebrate graduation in proper style once it is safe to do, Killick is not planning many days of rest.

He adds: “I think we are all looking forward to starting our careers because it has been a long road to get here… We have been gearing towards this for a while and now it is finally here.”