UCD 2014 Conferring Address

Address to Graduands by Professor Eilis McGovern

President, Members of Faculty, honoured guests and, of course, our new graduates.  It’s a real honour to be invited here today to give this address.

The last conferring ceremony I attended in UCD was my own – I won’t tell you what year that was, because you’d all be doing the mental arithmetic to work out what age I am! Back then, the campus was a fraction of the size it is now. In fact, apart from pre-med in the science block, we spent our remaining time in Earlsfort Terrace. So when we came back here for our conferring, we hadn’t set foot in Belfield for 5 years! So, what a lot of changes since that time.

May I start today by welcoming all your parents, families, and friends. I would like to particularly welcome the guests of our international students, who have travelled from all over the world to be here for your graduation.

Your parents and families have been supporting you throughout your student journey – many of you will have had some stressful times - with exams and relationships for example - and they’ve been there for you. And many of them will have made big financial sacrifices to get you here to-day.

The other important group to acknowledge and thank are the staff and faculty - for all their hard work, dedication and commitment. You represent the fruits of their labours, and they are all thrilled with your success.

Congratulations to all the graduates.

We have 3 groups here today -

  1. 38 x BScs in Nursing have been conferred – most of you are in the new integrated programme of children’s and general nursing
  2. We have 200 x Medical graduates – I don’t know if you are aware that your year represents the peak intake of 725 students following the Fottrell report in 2006. Before that, the annual intake of EEA students was 340, but this was doubled when it was recognised that we simply were not producing enough doctors for the needs of the health service
  3. And finally, we have 65 Higher degrees in medicine and nursing – these awards represent the culmination of challenging research projects, and in many cases have already resulted in publications. I hope that you can retain this research interest when you take up your clinical posts, and become role models for the next generation of researchers.

There is so much negativity around, that I’m sure many of you are worried about your futures, and whether you have made the right career choice.  The media coverage of the health service is unbalanced and unsympathetic, and we only ever seem to hear about the bad news stories.  Then on a personal level for doctors and nurses, it’s all about - The lack of jobs, pay cuts, long working hours, and difficulty accessing training posts

It’s really important to put some perspective and balance into this:

  1. Firstly there is a worldwide shortage of doctors and nurses, so there will be employment opportunities for all of you, and
  2. Secondly a lot of the negativity is related to the world-wide economic situation, and its effect on a small country like Ireland. The negativity is pervasive, and a large part of the focus has been on the health service. But the economy is cyclical in nature, and we are at the bottom of a cycle now

I know that this will be hard for you to believe, but people of my generation have been through recessions before, and we know that this will turn around.

And – paradoxically - from a timing point of view, your group is actually in a good position. You’ve been in college during the worst of this recession, and will be entering the workforce as things are starting to get better. After every recession there is a growth phase – and that means more employment opportunities for all of you.

So what other good news is out there?

Well, for medicine, for a long time, lip service has been paid to junior doctors and their issues.

But things are different now.

Your predecessors voted with their feet and emigrated in large numbers.

And, at last, the system has recognised this loss and is doing something about it –

  • The Strategic Review of Medical Training and Career Structure under the chairmanship of Brian MacCraith, President of DCU,  was set up with a specific purpose – to come up with solutions to retain our medical graduates. The review has already produced 2 reports and the final one is due at the end of the month.
    • Some of the recommendations are about training, for example
      • Shortening training – many of our programmes are very long by international standards; anaesthesia and surgery have already responded by cutting the duration of training by one year
      • Seamless training – where basic and higher training are merged; this has the potential to remove the bottleneck to get into higher training; anaesthetics, surgery, emergency medicine and psychiatry are now seamless; and obs and pathology are considering it for 2015
      • More training posts - again to ease the bottlenecks, and starting with the intern year, where we have increased the number of posts by 115 in the past 2 years; we’ve also put 60 extra SpR posts into the system for July
      • Pre-defined rotations – so that trainees know from the outset where they will be located for their training; a good example is anaesthetics, where 1st year trainees know where they will be for the next 5 years
      • Protected training time for trainees during the working weekBetter representative and advocacy roles for trainees in hospitals, with a  pilot programme of NCHD leads on 8 sites, which started in Jan
      • And EWTD compliance – there is a commitment to have this in place by the end of the year, with financial sanctions for non-compliant hospitals; already 99% of current interns are compliant with max 24-hour shifts, and your group will be fully 48-hour compliant
    • With regard to career structure – at last, there is a recognition that the recent change in terms and conditions for consultants is driving our graduates away; the first step to address this is actually starting today in the Labour Relations Commission. There is also a commitment to look at
      • Flexible and family-friendly working conditions
      • Better workforce planning so that trainees can see where the future job opportunities will be
      • And a new careers website, plus our annual Careers Fair for interns – which this year will be in Dublin Castle in September

In nursing

  • With your integrated degree, new roles are being developed to help children and families in their transition from hospital to the community, and in the transition from child to adolescent to adult services
  • More specialised roles, such as Clinical Nurse Specialists and Advanced Nurse Practitioners
  • More opportunities for inter-professional working and collaborative practice
  • The Nurse prescribing initiative – almost 150,000 prescriptions have been written by nurses
  • The launch of the “Postgraduate Certificate in Nursing and Midwifery Programme” in Jan 2014
  • The setting up of a national review of workload and workforce planning in nursing
  • National leadership master-classes
  • And very importantly, the appointment of a new Chief Nursing officer in the Dept of Health

So I hope you can see that there is a lot of positive news out there, and that you will benefit from many of these new initiatives.  This is so important, because you are the future of our health service – our future nurses, GPs, specialists and consultants.

People like me, and the other people on the podium – by that I mean old people – are your future patients.  We want you to be here to look after us.

So, of course, travel outside Ireland – travel to see the rest of the world, and to enhance your careers.  But come back – come back as more rounded individuals, with new expertise in your professions and specialties, come back and make our health service better.

Make it better from the inside.   But that’s all for the future – enough of the lecturing!

For to-day – just bask in the warm glow of your success, you deserve it.

Have a wonderful time tonight, and enjoy the company of your classmates over the next few days, because many of your international friends will be going home and you might not see each other for a while. Actually now is a good time to start talking about your first re-union!

Finally, may I once more congratulate all of you, and wish you every happiness and success in your bright and exciting future careers.

Thank you.