Plans for a medical school shared between the University of Ulster s Magee campus and NUI Galway were recently unveiled at a conference in Sligo. Academics, politicians and medical experts from the north and west of the island of Ireland came together to back a proposal that would put the Ulster-Connacht region on Ireland s medical education map.
The proposal draws on the strengths of both institutions to create a compelling proposition that will open up new opportunities in cross-border healthcare service provision, medical research and economic development, as well as medical education itself. The initiative will also addresses the problem of attracting GPs to the region, as research has shown that graduates are more likely to seek employment in the area where they were educated.
As part of the proposal, NUI Galway and the University of Ulster will each provide a four-year programme for graduate entrants, with an additional five-year option available at NUI Galway. While the final three years of each programme will be interchangeable, the UU programme will have more emphasis on Primary Care.
Hospitals and primary care centres involved will include, in the North - Derry, Omagh, Enniskillen, and Coleraine, and in the South - Ballinasloe, Mayo, Sligo, Letterkenny and Roscommon.
The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at NUI Galway will adopt a mentoring role for the School at UU s Magee campus, providing academic expertise in programme development, sharing courses and, where appropriate, clinical teachers, and also developing the student assessment process in order to achieve the highest standards.
Common, jointly developed, distance learning packages will be used to deliver curricular content at affiliated sites. This will be facilitated by the University of Ulster s world-leading strength in web-based distance learning. Clinical placements in affiliated hospitals and practices, and special study modules will be shared, and interchangeable, giving students experience of two health care systems, and facilitating inter-professional learning opportunities.
According to Professor Gerry Loftus, Dean of Medicine and Health Sciences, NUI Galway, "Our science, technology and research capabilities have developed and expanded over the past number of years and in building this partnership with Ulster University, we are adding to the facilities available at NUI Galway and strengthening our position as a world-class university. The Government's Fottrell Report, specifically addressed medical education and underlined the need to provide further opportunities for medical education both at undergraduate and graduate entry level. Working together, the medical experts and institutions in this Ulster-Connacht region have the potential to create a significant critical mass which will open up many new educational and research opportunities for students."
Professor Loftus went on to say that NUI Galway are working towards a total intake of 160 undergraduate and graduate entry medical students at NUI Galway in the coming years. With closer ties and the support of the local hospitals in the Ulster/Connacht region, clinical placements for such numbers of students could be achieved.
Professor Bernie Hannigan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Ulster, said: "The north-west region of the island of Ireland presents many challenges to the delivery of high quality medical services. One solution is to ensure a supply of well-educated doctors who have received their training in the region, and so developed a connection with the area.
"Together, the University of Ulster and NUI Galway are proposing a model of a joint medical school to do just that. All students in the Ulster-Connacht Medical School would experience the same excellent foundation in medical sciences, and undergo training in the hospitals and primary care centres on both sides of the Border."
"This is a single, highly creative, cost-effective solution to problems that affect people identically, whether in Northern Ireland or in the Republic."
Professor Hannigan added that the university partners to the project are working closely with project supporters and are hoping soon to get the green light to proceed to more detailed planning stages. Their current conviction is that the many benefits it would bring to the community must make the project a high priority for future spending plans.