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In this interview, Dr Kieran Kennedy shares his experience of studying medicine and working as a medical doctor here in Ireland.

Dr Kennedy is a Lecturer in Clinical Methods and Clinical Practice in the at the National University of Ireland Galway. He is involved in teaching undergraduate medical students at all stages of their training. Dr Kennedy is practicing General Practitioner in Galway City. He has a range of clinical interests in General Practice, but a particular interest in child health.

When and why did you decide to become a doctor?

Some doctors may give a simple answer to this question. For example, perhaps they had a relative with a serious illness, or a personal experience of the health service during childhood or early adulthood, that inspired them to study medicine. Under the Irish educational system, most students must decide on medicine as a career whilst they are still at secondary level. Thus, I decided to become a doctor whilst I was in secondary school, however, for me, the decision to become a doctor was not a “light-bulb moment”, but a case of mindfully “dipping my toe in the water” before I was certain that it was the right career for me. I highly recommend medicine as a deeply fulfilling career – I love my work and am passionate about continually improving my ability to deliver the highest quality of patient care – however, those feelings evolved with time as I matured into my professional role.

How much study did you have to do before starting medical school?

Getting in to medical school is very competitive, but it’s more about self-discipline and approach to study than the amount of study. Entry procedures have evolved significantly in the UK, Ireland and internationally in recent years, whereby other competencies, apart from academic performance, are now highly weighted. I certainly worked hard to get in to medical school; but what really got me in was strongly impacted by my self-disciplined approach to study.

How much study did you have to do during medical school?

Medicine is a demanding course, but not necessarily in terms of “how much” you study. Students in other subject areas, engineering for example, often have more time-tabled programme hours than medical students. Excellent medical training is more about how many patients you meet, listen to and examine, rather than how much time you spend studying from books, although the latter is obviously essential too. The School of Medicine at NUI Galway places special emphasis on affording medical students opportunities to meet patients and gain hands-on training.

What did you find most challenging while studying medicine?

What I found most challenging is also what has brought be the most job-satisfaction: developing strong communication skills. Communicating effectively is really essential to high quality medical practice. Good communication dramatically enhances patient satisfaction and, thus, one’s own personal job satisfaction. I enjoy the challenge of communicating well in challenging circumstances (e.g. in the case of an emotionally distressed patient or breaking bad news, etc.). When a challenging communication scenario is handled well, it brings me great job satisfaction.

What did you enjoy most while studying medicine?

Early in the programme, I enjoyed learning so much about the structure, function and pathology of the human body. Later in the programme, I really enjoyed meeting patients and hearing their individual narratives.

In your opinion, what qualities do you need to become a doctor?

Integrity, integrity and more integrity. That is a central quality. You need to be honest and conscientious (for example, admit it when you make a mistake – you are only human and you will make a mistake).  You need to be a team worker (everyone who contributes to the patient’s journey has to be respected). You need to be dedicated to lifelong learning (medicine is a profession and one of components of the definition of a profession is that you need to commit to continual professional development – this is very true of medicine which is constantly evolving and you have a duty to your patients to ensure that you are on top of your game with respect to the latest developments). You need to be able to communicate effectively (good communication with patients, families and colleagues is essential to the effective delivery of healthcare – it’s important to note that communication is another skill that is developed throughout one’s career – one need’s to develop the ability to reflect on “what worked well in that consultation?” and “how could that have been handled differently?”). There are other qualities that I could list from my own personal refection, however, anyone seriously considering a career in medicine is advised to explore the domains of good professional practice described by the Medical Council.

Is life as a doctor different to how you imagined it would be?

Absolutely. Nobody really knows what it is going to be like until you begin to work in the field. As such, I am strong believer in the need for good career guidance for anyone considering entry to medical school (and I am very actively involved in the provision of such guidance to aspiring medical students and our own medical students in my role as Lecturer at the School of Medicine in the National University of Ireland Galway). It’s a great career. It’s a huge privilege to be invited in to the lives of your patients especially when they are at a time of immense personal crisis. That experience is very fulfilling and enriches one’s own life experience. I am very grateful for all that I have learnt from my patients and it is that sense of being involved and “let into” their lives that I could never have imagined, and that makes me love what I do.

To a young person thinking about studying medicine, what advice (if any) would you offer?

Seek advice! Career guidance is essential. Students embarking on a career in medicine are very often not well briefed on what that career entails. That can have very negative consequences in terms of the development of their career. Time can be wasted that could be put to better use. Also, students embarking on a medical degree often benefit from discussing career options early. It’s essential to seek advice on an ongoing basis.

Apart from text books – are there any resources (books, webpages, TV shows) that you would recommend to someone hoping to become a doctor?

The Student BMJ (student version of the British Medical Journal) is an enjoyable and inspiring read.

One piece of advice though, in addition to that above – your medical training will prepare you for your career as a doctor, so consider using your spare time effectively to develop outside medical interests and hobbies. Such interests (sports, hobbies, etc..) are very important for bringing balance to a demanding career.

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