ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS IN IRELAND: Live operations, crime investigation, clinical trials: all in a day’s work for budding TY medical students
‘WHOSE BODY was this? How did he die?” State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy asked 150 Transition Year students at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI). The body was found in Dublin’s Grand Canal, and the students had no idea of the dead man’s identity or what had happened. Prof Cassidy talked the group through the clues, until a picture was eventually formed.
The State Pathologist was delivering a lecture to the TY group as part of a special week-long course at the RCSI, designed to give secondary school students a realistic taste of life as a medical student. Around 80 schools were represented at the event, held during the week of January 18th.
The course, now in its third year, brought students to Beaumont hospital on three days. Here, they were introduced to stood out. One of these was about to undergo a gall bladder operation, while the other was preparing for gastro-intestinal surgery.
“We spoke with the patients about their surgery and they permitted us to observe their operations,” says Andrew McKeown (16), who travelled from St Mary’s College in Dundalk to attend the RCSI week. “We were in the lecture theatre and we watched the procedure through a video link. The surgeon was able to explain what he was doing and we could ask questions.”
During the week, students learnt from medical lecturers about cardiology, respiratory medicine, pathology, anatomy, abdominal surgeries, orthopaedic surgery, head injuries, radiology, and other subjects. Students also attended lectures at RCSI on a wide variety of medical issues and undertook practical classes in chemistry and biology labs. They discovered how drug development begins from pre-clinical trials and passes through a further three stages before finally reaching the market. One young speaker, who had cystic fibrosis, explained to the students how a new drug had positively transformed his life.
Students also learnt how the medicine course is structured, how to apply, and details of the HPat, an international-standard aptitude test designed to examine a student’s suitability for a medical career.
SINCE LAST YEAR , all applicants for medical courses must sit the HPat; their score is combined with their Leaving Certificate results to determine eligibility.
“We used to run a number of different small-scale work experience programmes,” says Dr Helen McVeigh of RCSI. “The idea was to consolidate the programme and do it once a year for a full week. We try to give them an experience of actually being a student here. They start at 9am and are here until 5pm, or sometimes later. For some of them, it confirms that medicine is what they really want, while others realise it’s not for them.”
Lauren Fagan, a 16-year-old student at Loreto College Balbriggan, north Dublin, was one of hundreds of applicants to the RCSI course.
“I was keen to explore different aspects of medicine,” she explains. “This course offered a good introduction to college life. We visited Beaumont and saw how a hospital works, what it does, and how everyone pulls together as part of a team. Between that, lectures, and all the people we met, we got to experience so many different situations.”
Alison Knight (15), from St Raphaela’s Secondary School in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, has had a long interest in medicine, and attended the course with a career as a radiographer in mind. How does she feel now?
“It was a brilliant week and a great opportunity to meet lecturers,” she says. “A career in medicine is definitely for me.”