By Rebecca Black, PA
The first students have entered the new medical school in Derry.
Some 70 students are enrolled in the first cohort at the new School of Medicine at the Magee campus of Ulster University.
The graduate entry medical school 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 and nursing.
Aoife O’Donnell (24) from Derry, said it is her dream to train and work in the northwest as a doctor.
It’s an exciting day for @UlsterUni as we open our new School of Medicine on the Magee campus!
Our 1st cohort of students come from a range of different backgrounds including investment banking, nursing & a lecturer in Irish
— Ulster University (@UlsterUni) August 23, 2021
“My younger brother was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 16 and caring for him prompted my early interest in a career in medicine,” she said.
“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 paediatric 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 northwest as a doctor. I hope to specialise in ophthalmology and aspire to provide the very best in eye care in this region.”
The new department is housed in a listed historic building which was transformed into a state-of-the-art facility with a £1m investment including an anatomy laboratory which will feature equipment such as anatomage tables and hand-held Ultrasound imaging devices.
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.
Ulster University Vice Chancellor, Professor Paul Bartholomew, said it was an exciting and important day for the 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,” he said.
“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.”
Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan visited for the first day. He said: “This is a momentous day, not just for Ulster University and the students who will study here at the Magee Campus, but for Londonderry (Derry) 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.”
In a statement, the deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, said: “The opening of Ulster University School of Medicine is a landmark announcement for Derry and the North West.
“The School of Medicine improves significantly the educational offering in Magee that will attract students from far and wide. It will create significant and long term economic benefits for the region as well as benefiting the wider health service.”
The North’s Health Minister Robin Swann said the initiative will play “an important and significant part in helping provide the doctors who will serve this society for many years to come”.
Dr Tom Black, BMA NI Council Chair, added: “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 choose 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.”