16 December, 2007 - Major reform of medical education and training agreed this week

Changes will ensure that Ireland has many more highly trained doctors available to work in the health service - Minister Hanafin

Leaving Cert students hoping to study medicine will no longer have to strive for   perfect maximum points as a new admissions test alongside their Leaving Cert results is being introduced from 2009.  The Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin T.D. has approved major reforms in medical education which will give many more students the chance to study medicine than previously.

The comprehensive changes, which have been agreed this week with the universities and the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland include a new entry mechanism to undergraduate medical education and further roll-out of additional places for both undergraduate and graduate entry  students .

The key elements of the new package are:

  • Introduction from 2009 of a new selection process for entry to undergraduate medicine. This will be open to all students who achieve a threshold level of 480 points in their Leaving Certificate examination and meet matriculation requirements. (This will replace the current selection system for entry to undergraduate Medicine.)
  • An admissions test that complements the Leaving Certificate examination by assessing a range of general and personal skills and competencies.
  • Weighted credit to be given for performance in the Leaving Cert up to 550 points, with significantly moderated credit after that. This will diminish   pressures towards perfect performance in the Leaving Certificate.
  • The allocation of an additional 115 graduate entry places to UCD, UCC and NUIG and a further 65 places in UL
  • The allocation of an additional 70 under-graduate places across TCD, NUIG and UCC.

Minister Hanafin said that the reforms that have been agreed will "enable students who firstly have a desire to study medicine, coupled with a good Leaving Cert and good result in the admissions test to gain a place in medicine, without having the pressure of producing the perfect result in their Leaving Cert exams. The Leaving Cert will still be the key determinant in the overall scheme, with that result getting a 2:1 weighting over the admissions test. However, it is widely acknowledged that academic ability is not the only requirement to be a good doctor."

How the New Entry Mechanism will work

For students sitting the Leaving Cert 2009, all students who meet the matriculation requirements and who achieve a minimum threshold score of 480 points in a single sitting of the Leaving Certificate (or equivalent) will be considered for selection based on

  • the combined weighted score of Leaving Certificate results and
  • performance in a medical school admission test.

Credit for Leaving Certificate performance will be moderated from 550 points onwards, with 1 point added for each 5 points scored in Leaving Cert results.  This will mean the maximum points which can be added to the candidates overall score is 560. 

The new selection criteria are designed to provide students who reach the threshold of 480 points in the Leaving Certificate with a reasonable prospect of achieving the entry standard based on strong performance in the admission test. 

The admission test will be based on one used internationally and will measure general and personal skills and abilities that are not directly assessed in academic examinations.

Minister Hanafin went onto to say "this new entry mechanism will have the effect of recognising a broader range of educational performance and reducing the negative educational impact of intense pressure on students for an exceptional Leaving Certificate performance."

Increase in the number of places available

The Minister said that under the package that was agreed between herself and the Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney T.D., the number of places available for Irish/EU students will jump from 305 to 725 by the year 2010/2011.  "This increase in numbers will be brought about by increasing the number of undergraduate places as well as increasing the number of places in the newly established graduate programme, which started this year in UL but is being expanded to include other colleges."

Extra Undergraduate places

An additional 110 places have been provided across the five medical schools for Irish/EU undergraduate students in medicine over the last two years. Provision is also being made for a further 70 undergraduate medical places for Irish/EU students across three Medical Schools (TCD, UCC and NUI Galway) over the next three years. The full impact of the reform package will see the provision of Irish/EU places on the undergraduate programme increase by an additional 180 places.

Increase in numbers for Graduate Programme

The competitive process for the introduction of the new Graduate Entry programme for medicine was concluded early this year. The successful bids from the University of Limerick and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland received approval to provide 30 places each on the new Graduate Entry programme for the academic year 2007/2008.

Further expansion of this entry stream will see its introduction in three other Medical Schools (NUI Galway, UCC and UCD) over the next three years. Graduate entry programmes will commence in September 2008 at UCC and UCD, and in September 2010 at NUIG. When the reform package is fully implemented the new Graduate Entry stream will provide a total of 240 additional Irish/EU places in medicine.

Minister Hanafin said "this expansion of undergraduate and graduate entry intake will deliver the increased number of Irish/EU medical graduates recommended in the Fottrell Report.  The additional places on both the Undergraduate and Graduate streams, when fully implemented, will see the number of Irish/EU places in medicine increasing by 420 and bring the total Irish/EU places available up to 725."

Funding for Medical Education & Training

The Fottrell Report highlighted the need to enhance investment in medical education and training to meet the standards of training expected internationally.  The Minister and Government have already moved to address this recommendation through the provision of extra dedicated funding for medical education in 2006 and 2007, and intend to continue doing so into the future. Minister Hanafin said "it essential that all students in medical education, be they under-graduate or graduates, are properly supported to undergo a high quality programme of medical education and training, to meet Ireland's health needs into the future."

Minister Hanafin concluded by saying "taking the establishment of a new medical school at the University of Limerick, and the allocation of new graduate entry places to the RCSI, today's announcement represents another significant milestone in the development of medical education in Ireland.  It is anticipated that these changes will substantially alleviate the pressure on students wishing to pursue a career in medicine and will provide a greater diversity of intake into the profession whilst maintaining the highest academic and professional standards.

I anticipate working closely with my colleague the Minister for Health and Children on the continued development and reform of medical education and training at both undergraduate and graduate level to ensure that we provide the highly skilled doctors which are so essential to our wellbeing.

I am particularly pleased to see the reforms in admission to medical schools. These reforms will, I believe, enhance the experiences of medical students, both in training to be doctors, and also in their second level experiences. Taken with the commencement of graduate entry in UL and RCSI this year, these represent the most significant changes to medical education since the foundation of the state."