Foundations for the future

Professor Hannah McGee
Dean of Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences,
Royal College of Surgeons Ireland

Professor Patrick Murray
Dean of Medicine, University College Dublin

ELEANOR LOPEZ speaks to representatives from two of Ireland’s most prestigious and long standing institutions to find out what makes them the forerunners in medical studies. 

Ireland’s worldwide reputation for excellence in education particularly in the fields of Medicine and Health Science has been built on a solid foundation of commitment to quality and continuous development. This is apparent with the longevity of colleges such as the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI), established in 1784 and the University College Dublin (UCD), established in 1854. On a recent visit to partner institute, Penang Medical College in Malaysia, Prof Hannah McGee of RCSI and Prof Patrick Murray of UCD shared their views on what makes Ireland a top destination for students pursuing a medical qualification and the contributions of these colleges to the health industry and global community.

Originally established as a surgical training college, RCSI remains as the training and regulatory body for surgical training in Ireland. In addition to surgery however, they offer postgraduate faculties in radiology, exercise and sports medicine, dentistry, nursing and midwifery to name but a few. RCSI is also an extremely research active institution with research clusters focusing on cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, neuroscience, infection and regenerative medicine and population health.


“The longevity of RCSI might well be the basis on which the quality standards and strong reputation of RCSI are built,” claims Prof McGee, highlighting the college’s international student body. “We believe that we are the largest international medical school in the world offering undergraduate medical training in four RCSI campuses across three continents with over 60 nationalities represented within the student body. The international student body creates an Alumni Diaspora which covers the globe. RCSI is truly a global medical educator.”

“RCSI has a significant international student body. On the admissions side we operate a policy of admitting students from different parts of the world with approximately one third coming from the European Union (mainly Irish), one third from the developing world and one third from the developed world,” explains Prof McGee. “This creates a unique learning environment and graduates return to their home countries with a cultural education and tolerance that they gain far beyond the structures of the medical curriculum.”

According to Prof Murray, the integration of different cultures and background is something that is central to the ethos of Irish education. Dating back to hundreds of years ago when Irish missionaries travelled to various, often remote parts of the world, this exposure to eastern and western lifestyles has provided a global outlook that has long been ingrained in the Irish education system. This has proved especially valuable within the evolving fields of medicine and science, where knowledge and exposure to tropical illnesses and diseases have been helpful in keeping abreast of developments and discoveries.

It is not surprising then to find that this has been one of the founding visions of UCD. “The University’s founder John Henry Newman, outlined his vision in a volume of published lectures titled The Idea of a University. His vision was based on creating an educational institution dedicated to facilitating ‘true enlightenment of the mind’ and developing ‘a university mission to benefit the wider world’. To this day, UCD stays true to this ethos,” says Prof Murray.

With over 160 years of tradition, UCD has been a major contributor to the making of modern Ireland; leading and shaping agendas since its foundation in 1854. It is well documented that many UCD students and staff participated in the struggle for Irish independence and the university has produced numerous Irish Presidents and Taoisigh (Prime Ministers) in addition to generations of world renowned opinion leaders who have made real and lasting contributions to the worlds of commerce, medicine, science, law, arts and sport. Among UCD’s well-known graduates are authors Maeve Binchy, Roddy Doyle, Flann O’Brien; actors Gabriel Byrne and Brendan Gleeson and sports stars such as Irish rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll and former Manchester United and Ireland captain Kevin Moran. Perhaps the best known of all its graduates is writer James Joyce, who completed his Bachelor of Arts at the university in 1902.

Such a long history of success is not the only reason these institutions have managed to stay relevant,  “RCSI is a living entity which is constantly evolving. The position of standing still is never an option,” states Prof McGee, speaking for the institution’s 200-year old reputation. “It is important to note that RCSI are not a state funded organization, in fact we are a not-for-profit organization. This independence requires RCSI to be innovative and flexible. This is achieved through a continual process of quality improvement which is driven by both an internal Quality Enhancement Office and by regular external review and audit. We also get together regularly in Dublin to align our activities in teaching, examining and managing clinical training standards to ensure continuing high standards.”

Ensuring consistency and high standards is a priority to both institutions, and the secret to achieving this is to be student-centric as Prof Murray points out. “UCD is a world renowned educational institution which consistently produces graduates of the highest calibre. Our students are given every opportunity to evolve into extremely competent, highly employable graduates who are prepared to thrive in their respective chosen fields. We are an internationally recognised provider of healthcare education, with long-established partnerships, links and affiliations with institutions in the United States, Canada, China and Malaysia. Our graduates, including a former President of Ireland and the current President of the Medical Council, have reached leadership positions in Ireland and throughout the world.”

Keeping tabs with the healthcare industry is also key to continuous growth and success. ”Our staff are dedicated to improving primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare in Ireland while continuously sharing knowledge and expertise with the international medical community thus helping to drive betterment within a global context,” says Prof Murray.

And complacency is never tolerated according to Prof McGee. “I don’t think we should ever become complacent about standards. The day we start to do that is the day we begin to go backwards. For me the real check is where our graduates end up. Our education is only as good as to where it takes our graduates. Many of our graduates are global leaders in healthcare – Professor Lord Ara Darzi, Professor and Chairman of Surgery at Imperial College London; Dr Houriya Kazim, Medical Director and specialist breast surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, US;  Professor Kieran Murphy, Professor of Radiology University of Toronto & University Hospital Network and Dr Michelle McEvoy, Consultant Pediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, London – to name but a few.”

The RCSI has been receiving Malaysian students since the 1970s and it wasn’t long before the demand for medical seats in the institution far outstripped their capacity. It was time to look for an alternative solution. “As luck would have it, an opportunity arose in the mid 1990’s with the Penang Development Corporation who were looking to create a medical campus in Penang. It was a perfect match. Our curriculum is delivered by senior Irish clinicians teamed with local clinical leaders in Penang hospitals, following an immersion in life away from home in a Western culture,” says Prof McGee referring to the 5-year program which is divided between the two cities.

As founding partner of PMC, the UCD has hosted over 50 students every year for the last 15 years. “Since its foundation, UCD faculty has been very closely involved in the continuing development of the highly successful PMC Medicine program. More recently our teams have been working together to develop post-graduate courses in fields such as Diagnostic Imaging and Dermatology,” says Prof Murray. “The UCD School of Medicine and Medical Sciences is proud of our multi-national, multicultural student body and our students from Malaysia are an integral part of that long tradition. They enrich our programme as enthusiastic participants in academic, cultural and social events bringing Malaysian sophistication and glamour to our campus.”

Looking ahead, both institutions are confident that they will continue to remain in the forefront of global knowledge and research studies especially in Asia and North America. “As the highest level research is, by its nature, global in scope, UCD will continue to foster collaboration with the ‘best of the best’ researchers across the world. The University will continue to focus on five research priorities – Culture, Economy and Society; Health; Information, Computation & Communications; Agri-Food and Energy & Environment,” assures Prof Murray.

As for the RCSI, Prof McGee is confident its not-for-profit status will continue to propel the institute ahead. “This status, which makes us independent of the State, gives us both the need and the ambition to be innovators in healthcare education and training – and challenges us to create our own future through our efforts. It is a healthy challenge for any organisation and leadership – and keeps us ever forward looking.”

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