The first cohort to enter the first graduate entry medical school in Northern Ireland is made up of students with a wide range of related and non-scientific/healthcare backgrounds from politics to investment banking, radiography, management consultancy, optometry, forensic science, nursing and even a previous lecturer in Irish at Magee.
Not only are they from a wide demographic group but geographically they hail from nearby: Derry and Letterkenny; to further afield: Belfast, Dublin, Galway; and even halfway across the world: the Gold Coast, Australia.
This is a group of students who have a disparate range of lived experience and skills, making this an exciting and stimulating entry route into the medical profession.
Meet the Students
Aoife, 24, born in Derry~Londonderry and lives in Donegal said: “My younger brother was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 16 and caring for him prompted my early interest in a career in medicine. I was unwell when I did my Leaving Cert and found myself just short of the points for medicine so I opted to study optometry. More recently I worked alongside a pediatric consultant ophthalmologist and this further clinical experience helped to solidify my passion for medicine. After contracting Covid-19, I have recently trained and started working as a Covid-19 vaccinator to play my part in the national effort in managing the pandemic. It is my dream to train and work in the North-west as a doctor. I hope to specialise in ophthalmology and aspire to provide the very best in eye care in this region.”
Nicola, 25 from Antrim has arrived at the School of Medicine via an undergraduate degree in Accounting from Ulster and a career in Investment Banking in London. She observed: “There are quite a lot of similarities between the careers despite their vast differences, such as the fast pace, high pressure environment, significant responsibility and lifelong learning. I feel the skills I’ve built, along with valuable life experiences working and living in Belfast, Dublin, Vancouver and London (and soon to be Derry) will stand me well in my new career.”
Seamus, 37 from Dublin previously worked as a lecturer in Irish at Magee and then as a political advisor on universal community-based healthcare in Ireland. He said: “During my work on Sláintecare, I met lots of healthcare experts who all said that recruitment of new staff to the Health Service was key and graduate entry needed to be extended to those with wider backgrounds and lived experience so I took them at their word and applied. Further inspiration came in the form of my cousin from Limavady who left her job to study nursing at Magee aged 45 and loved the experience so I thought, if she can do it, so can I.”
Roland, 27 from the Gold Coast, Australia, added: “In the last five years I've been working as a CT radiographer at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and Queensland Children's Hospital. I have always strived to become a doctor from a young age, and working in a multidisciplinary team dealing with patients has motivated me to pursue that dream. Having the opportunity to study medicine at Ulster University has been an achievement and will be a new adventure.”
Investment in the School’s home - the old meets the new
Over the past 12 months, Ulster University’s Estates Services’ team has worked alongside its design team led by architects McAdam Design and contractors, P & K McKaigue Ltd (from Maghera) to bring this important project to fruition.
They have collectively worked tirelessly to transform a listed historic building into a state-of-the-art learning environment.After a £1m investment in the refurbishment, the School of Medicine boasts high-tech, high-spec facilities which will enable the School staff to nurture Northern Ireland’s future doctors in the heart of the communities they will serve.
Following the re-modelling, the interior space, (1530 sq metres in size) now boasts an anatomy laboratory which will feature equipment such as anatomage tables and hand-held Ultrasound imaging devices; four clinical and communications skills teaching rooms, eight problem-based learning rooms, as well as hub spaces for collaborative and individual study, relaxation and socializing.
Once a Professor’s residence, 3 & 4 College Avenue dates back to the 1880s when the campus was known as Magee College. Today, the revamped building looks out onto the newly enhanced public realm, refurbished Library and an innovative teaching block which was opened in 2018.
As part of the plan for the expansion of the Magee campus, a permanent home for the School of Medicine will be located on the riverfront, on the Strand Road in the years to come. It will act as a catalyst for an innovation corridor stretching out to Fort George.
Professor Louise Dubras, Foundation Dean at the School of Medicine, Ulster University said: “I’m so excited to greet our new students on this momentous day which I have looked forward to for years. I hope that the School, the University and the City itself will encourage a sense of belonging and pride in our region’s future doctors.
“I am very proud of our new School of Medicine which in itself marks the continued transformation of the Magee campus into a hub for Health and Innovation, as a pre-emptive part of the Derry and Strabane City Deal. Medical schools are sometimes located in a hospital setting but I want our students to learn near the city’s GPs and the population they will go on to care for. The School of Medicine will act as their home, a welcoming place, for the future doctors who are embarking on a challenging yet hugely rewarding journey with us.”
The presence of the School of Medicine in the heart of the city represents an exciting step on the City Deal journey as the region prepares itself to capitalise on further growth in the burgeoning Life Sciences sector in Northern Ireland. Just six months on from the signing of the Head of Terms on the Derry & Strabane City Deal, this marks clear progress towards the delivery of the visionary City Deal.
Speaking at the opening of the School of Medicine, First Minster Paul Givan said:
“I am delighted to be here today for the opening of the Ulster University School of Medicine. This is a momentous day, not just for Ulster University and the students who will study here at the Magee Campus, but for Londonderry and the whole of Northern Ireland.
“It has taken an immense collective effort from a variety of partners across government, academia, medicine and beyond to get us to this point, and I commend all those who played their part to ensure this ambitious project came to fruition.
“Of course it is the students who are the most important part of this celebration, and I wish each one of them every success as they set out on the next stage of their educational journey towards a career in medicine.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said:
“This is a landmark day for Derry and the whole of the North West. The opening of Ulster University School of Medicine will attract students from far and wide to study at Magee, providing a significant boost to the local economy and greatly benefiting the wider health service.
“I commend all those who have worked tirelessly to secure this transformative investment, which is another significant and welcome step towards the regeneration of the North West.
“I wish all the new medical school entrants the very best with their studies and every success in their future careers.”
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said:
“The opening of the School of Medicine at UU Magee is a major achievement and a significant step forward for the north west, and indeed for all of Northern Ireland. The result will deliver increased capacity in terms of the supply of much needed doctors from a wide range of learning backgrounds and geographical areas. I wish the first cohort of trainee doctors, and all the staff, the very best as they embark on this exciting new chapter.”
Finance Minister, Conor Murphy said, from the Magee campus this morning:
“I am delighted to get the opportunity to attend this momentous event and meet with some of the first students at the new School of Medicine.
“I have always been an advocate for the opening of the School so it is great to see this vital project which was committed to in New Decade, New Approach, coming to fruition. It will bring significant benefits to the North West together with the Derry & Strabane City Deal.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to wish the students the very best as they embark on this exciting new chapter in their lives and thank everyone involved for getting us to what is such a significant day in the history of Ulster University.”
Greeting the new medical students at Magee, Health Minister Robin Swann commented:
“This is an historic occasion for Ulster University and also for this first cohort of students as they embark on their studies here at Magee. They are at the forefront of a hugely exciting initiative which will play an important and significant part in helping provide the doctors who will serve this society for many years to come. They can expect to undertake much of their learning in hospitals and general practices across the north west of Northern Ireland and I know that they will be we warmly embraced both by the clinical educators and the general public they come into contact with. I very much hope that over the next four years, they not only successfully complete their medical degrees, but ultimately choose to pursue their medical careers here.”
Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice Chancellor of the University commented:
“This is an exciting and important day for Ulster University. Our vision for the School of Medicine is to be nationally and internationally recognised for excellence so we can competitively recruit and retain high quality staff and students; produce doctors able to deliver whole-person care with skill, teamwork and compassion for the benefit of people across Northern Ireland and beyond. Today marks a major step in the journey to realising that vision and on behalf of the entire University I extend my warm welcome and good wishes to them.”
Dr Tom Black, BMA NI Council Chair added:
“It is fantastic to see the years of lobbying and hard work come to fruition today with the opening of the new School of Medicine at Ulster University. BMA had for years said we needed to have another medical school as we need to train more doctors locally with the anticipated result being that they will chose to stay and work in Northern Ireland thereby increasing our workforce at a critical time. I am sure all of the students who start their medical career today will be warmly welcomed by colleagues across the health service once they begin their placements. I wish them every success in their studies.
“We also need to recognise the determination of those who saw the need for a medical school and worked tirelessly to achieve this including everyone in the Vice Chancellor’s office, Professor Hugh McKenna and Professor Louise Dubras, their vision will benefit patients across Northern Ireland for years to come.”
Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) Medical Director, Dr Catherine McDonnell, said:
“Today represents a hugely significant milestone for the Western Trust and for the wider North West region as we welcome the first students to the new Medical School at Ulster University’s Magee Campus.
“The Medical School will play a truly transformation role in the region and will complement and support the existing positive work being carried out by the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (CTRIC) and Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (CARL).
“The students beginning their studies here today will hopefully go on to become the Doctors and GPs of the future, not only serving the North West region but playing an important part in the future development of medical provision across the region and on behalf of the Western Trust I would like to extend our support and well wishes to them all.”