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From working during Covid to playing for Leinster – the new doctors graduating in the pandemic

As the class of ’21 graduate from UCD’s School of Medicine, Kathy Donaghy speaks to two of the new young doctors about learning on the job in the middle of a pandemic and their hopes for the future.

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Dr Josh Murphy, Leinster’s back row for the Guinness Pro Rainbow Cup on Friday, graduated from UCD School of Medicine today. Picture: Andres Poveda

Dr Josh Murphy, Leinster’s back row for the Guinness Pro Rainbow Cup on Friday, graduated from UCD School of Medicine today. Picture: Andres Poveda

Dr Josh Murphy, Leinster’s back row for the Guinness Pro Rainbow Cup on Friday, graduated from UCD School of Medicine today. Picture: Andres Poveda

As soon as his graduation ceremony ends, 26 year-old Josh Murphy will hop on a plane to fly to Glasgow to take up his place in Leinster’s back row for the Guinness Pro Rainbow Cup tomorrow.

Combining rugby training with intern training was a tough balancing act for the Clonskeagh man and this graduation ceremony from UCD’s School of Medicine today marks the end of a tough road to becoming a doctor.

One of five children, Josh said he’s delighted to get to graduation today and while there was lots of fun along the way there were also some bumps in the road.

He’s one of 237 new doctors from 22 countries graduating virtually, who found themselves having something of a baptism of fire by doing their clinical placements in hospital settings as Covid-19 raged.

In the middle of lockdown he found himself working in the Coombe Hospital. It was his first hospital placement and a strange time to be entering a hospital setting as restrictions made it a very different experience, he said.

“It was an amazing experience to see new-born babies – births have to go ahead no matter what’s happening. All the mothers were amazing,” said Josh, who doesn’t yet have a clear idea what direction in medicine he wants to take. “I loved everything and it’s a good complaint to have.”

“You learn so much from being in a hospital. If you don’t get that patient exposure it’s very hard to learn because you can’t learn everything out of a book,” he added.

For the immediate future, he’s going to focus on rugby and his career with Leinster but he doesn’t take rugby for granted either.

“I’m in contention for that the whole time. It’s a very competitive side and I’m always fighting tooth and nail to get a game,” he said.

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Looking back at trying to combine training for Leinster with training to be a doctor, Josh believes one complemented the other. “When I was studying for my final exams, rugby was a nice break from all the studying. Sometimes you were wondering how you were going to fit it all in,” he said.

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Some of the class of 2021 UCD School of Medicine pictured ahead of their graduation. Dr Ethel McManus from Athlone, Co Roscommon, Dr Sarah Cooney from Mount Merrion, Dublin, Dr Matthew Gibbons from Meath, Dr Kirsten Carpenter from Canada, twins Dr Ross Walsh and Dr Jamie Walsh from Donnybook, Dublin, and Dr Madison Phipps from Canada. Picture: Andres Poveda

Some of the class of 2021 UCD School of Medicine pictured ahead of their graduation. Dr Ethel McManus from Athlone, Co Roscommon, Dr Sarah Cooney from Mount Merrion, Dublin, Dr Matthew Gibbons from Meath, Dr Kirsten Carpenter from Canada, twins Dr Ross Walsh and Dr Jamie Walsh from Donnybook, Dublin, and Dr Madison Phipps from Canada. Picture: Andres Poveda

Some of the class of 2021 UCD School of Medicine pictured ahead of their graduation. Dr Ethel McManus from Athlone, Co Roscommon, Dr Sarah Cooney from Mount Merrion, Dublin, Dr Matthew Gibbons from Meath, Dr Kirsten Carpenter from Canada, twins Dr Ross Walsh and Dr Jamie Walsh from Donnybook, Dublin, and Dr Madison Phipps from Canada. Picture: Andres Poveda

For her part, 24-year-old Sarah Cooney, who grew up just down the road from UCD, found herself on placement in the Mater Hospital and at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. She feels privileged to have started her medical career during the pandemic at a time when the world’s medical and scientific community were at the heart of treating patients and trying to find solutions to the virus which was sweeping the world.

“As a student, you can only do so much, but I’m really proud of my colleagues and friends. The students in the year above us were really thrown in at the deep end. They started working this time last year,” said Sarah.

“The most inspiring thing was to see everyone come together. The people in the year ahead of me were facing into the crisis at a time when we knew so little about Covid. Everyone was so eager to help,” she said.

After her finals she flew to Lesbos in Greece to work with refugees and while she’d love to have more opportunities to work abroad, she’s been selected for an academic track intern year which will see her combine three clinical posts with a research post.

Sarah would love to work as a consultant in the future and is particularly interested in the area of nephrology, a specialty of medicine that focuses on the treatment of diseases that affect the kidneys.

Professor Mary Horgan, consultant in infectious diseases at Cork University Hospital, who delivered the guest address at the graduation ceremony, told graduates that their job was not only to care for patients but to advocate for them too.

“It is a challenging time for all of us in healthcare but also for our society. Every one of us has been affected by the pandemic in many ways, but we will emerge stronger. We will treasure the simple pleasures in life – seeing our families, meeting our friends, crossing borders and eventually hugging each other,” said Prof Horgan, who is also a member of NPHET and President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI).

“There is clear light at the end of this long tunnel thanks to the feat of science and medicine. To have safe and effective vaccinations developed within a year of a new virus is a tribute to the efforts of our innovators in health and science. You are those future innovators so get involved in scientific discovery,” she told graduates during their virtual ceremony.”

“Move beyond groupthink, be inspired by those great leaders in medicine but also by those in fields outside medicine – they help us look at the same challenges in different ways. By doing, so we leave our comfort zone and learn from others,” said Prof Horgan.

This article was updated on June 3, 2021


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