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Friday 29 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
No opportunities for non-EU students I fell in love with Ireland but will soon have to leave
The flooded market for HSE placements has become unsustainable, an American medical student studying here writes.

FIVE YEARS AGO, I was recommended a study abroad programme by a friend looking into applying to medical school abroad.

I applied, and through this programme, I was one of about 40 North Americans accepted to an incoming class in Ireland. The spots were competitive, and I felt honoured to be invited to study in such a beautiful place with a charming community.

In my first year or two, I felt comfortable, made great friends, found a partner who wanted children and thought that I had found a place where I could make a real difference.

When I decided I definitely wanted to stay, I knew that I wasn’t at the top of the list for an internship, without which a medical graduate is unable to work.

Internships in Ireland are distributed to Irish and EU citizens by class ranking, and whatever’s leftover is assigned to non-EU graduates by class ranking.

Talking to interns, registrars, physicians and graduating students assured those interested in staying that sure, we might not get our desired location, but it’s generally no problem – there are plenty of spots.


However, in the years following, a bottleneck changed everything. The advent of graduate-entry programmes has flooded the market for internships.

Suddenly, all of our advisors told us that it’s just not possible. I was told that in the past couple of years, not a single non-EU student had been offered an internship from my school.

This was devastating news. I have stopped investing money into the city and community like I used to.

Getting driving lessons, planning a wedding; it seemed futile to spend time cultivating a life here that will only come to an end in a few months’ time.

Choosing to attend medical school in Ireland is an investment in the country, the economy and its people.

The cost of attending medical school in Ireland ranges from €39,200 to €52,500 per year, depending on the school.

Including living expenses, this culminates in a total of roughly €256,800 to €310,000 per student brought into the country.

That is a quarter of a million dollars we each feed into the Irish economy with no regrets.

Lack of support

However, I myself have been told by potential North American applicants that the only reason they’re hesitant to come to Ireland is the noticeable lack of postgraduate support in the past year – through no fault of the universities themselves.

There are no routes for us to take, and the schools are frustrated as well.

Advice to apply to the UK and return after the intern period finishes is laughable, as one needs a visa to apply to their internship positions, and you can’t obtain a visa without already being offered a position.

Residencies, which are North American training programmes analogous to an internship, do not qualify as a recognised internship programme, so returning to Ireland from America or Canada would also be difficult.

HSE policy means that a direct-entry medical student who has barely passed, or failed a year, will be offered an internship before an international graduate-entry student who has come top of his/her class.

The rules are driving away potential applicants, future doctors and millions of dollars in revenue.

The disappointment and frustration is palpable throughout all graduate-entry years in my programme.

Need for change

The incomparable amount of medical students who wish to attach to the intern scheme and the availability of internship spots has become unsustainable.

There needs to be a fundamental change in mindset of the HSE to create a place for individuals who are passionate about giving back and donating their time to Ireland.

Writing to and visiting politicians has only yielded secretary stamped form letters of thanks or a quick pat on the head. The only way forward is to get our story heard.

There is a physician shortage in Ireland – we hear about it every week, with patients waiting for 96 hours on trolleys and doctors collapsing after 60-hour shifts.

In 2014, junior doctors from Pakistan were hurriedly ushered in to fill the 120 vacant posts.

We need doctors in this country, and we are turning away excellent Irish-trained applicants.

We need relaxed changes to the HSE’s internship placement requirements and the creation of more internship posts. We need budgetary incentives to do so.

We need loyalty initiatives, offering extra internship spots for years of service.

We need to support the growth of the Irish education system and economy. We need to people to hear this story.

Going forward, we’ll be disappointingly applying to our home countries of Canada or America as plan A instead of plan C.

I know that I’ll be appreciating the time I had and people I met here, and I hope that the upcoming loss of the family I made here is a temporary one, as naive as that may be.

The writer is a medical student at an Irish university. 

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