Catriona Laverty, a medical intern in Clonmel’s South Tipperary General Hospital, tells Bridget Fitzsimons about how her job differs from what she learned in UCD

For the average UCD student, saving lives seems a bit of a stretch. Sure, we’ve all brought a drunken friend home after a night out, but actual lifesaving seems a bit out of our comfort zone. However, this is the reality for UCD graduate Dr Catriona Laverty. Laverty graduated in 2009 with a degree in Medicine after six years in UCD. She then took a sabbatical year and is now working in South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel as a medical intern.

She looks fondly at her time in UCD, but admits that this could be because of the structure of her course: “I think my experience of UCD was really different in that respect, because we had a proper class. We were together for six whole years with the same people.” She acknowledges that “this isn’t really true of other degree courses”. Laverty was part of one of the last classes to be taught at Earlsfort Terrace. She says that after Earlsfort Terrace, “we moved to the hospitals, so we didn’t really get to experience the campus feeling of UCD”.

When asked about how her degree differed from the realities of the job, Laverty is frank about the differences: “I don’t think that you can feel comfortable in it. You don’t really know what to expect. Your degree just doesn’t prepare you for intern year. Although you have the knowledge and some of the skills, intern year has a lot more clerical work.”

As a medical intern in South Tipperary, Laverty does not have typical days. She admits to feeling slightly unprepared after she came from university to a hospital. She says that “we have medical students with us now and I encourage them to write on ward rounds when the consultant is examining and someone has to write notes on the chart,” as “those are the kinds of things we would never have done as students and suddenly, you walk in on 1st July and it’s just you and the registrar writing the notes and you don’t really have any idea what to do”.

Medicine is regarded as one of the hardest courses to get into after secondary school. After years of needing to achieve top points to be a doctor, the HPAT test was introduced to allow those with an aptitude for medicine a better chance at entering the course.

Given that she achieved the points necessary to enter medicine, Laverty is thoughtful on the matter: “It’s difficult because you do need a mix. You need to be a people person, but you also need the academic standard to keep up. There is a lot to learn. It’s not necessarily really difficult, but there is just vast amounts of information that you need to understand and remember and you do need to be able for that.” She emphasises that “you also need to be able to interact with people”.

She reassures UCD medical students who may be having doubts, saying: “I think if you speak to everyone who’s done medicine, they will all have had a moment where they’ve thought that they don’t want to do it anymore.”

The pressure of a job that deals in life and death is something that you become used to. Laverty says that being constantly reminded of death is “something you get used to,” and that “you can’t be prepared for it”. She also emphasises that the considerable workload a doctor undertakes often takes priority: “You have to talk to the family and it is sad, but you have around 20 other people that you have to look after as well. You don’t really get a lot of time to dwell on it. It’s not something that you can be prepared for. You just have to figure out your own way of dealing with it.”

Laverty encourages all medical students to speak up on placement, to make sure that they are as prepared as they can be entering their intern year. She says that bigger hospitals, such as those at which UCD students do placement, can seem quite intimidating. She explains how students should “keep going in and keep trying. Keep bugging the senior doctors, because you will learn stuff and it is enjoyable.”

For Laverty, while the job has tough sides, she couldn’t imagine working anywhere else: “I need a job where I’m meeting people, talking to people and having fun. You’re with people all day and finding out their most intimate secrets. They trust me with information and trust me to make them feel better. It’s nice that way. I don’t think I could do a job that wasn’t service oriented and people oriented.”

There is no job that helps people like medicine does and despite the long hours and sometimes upsetting cases, the job is worth it for people like Laverty, who can combine people skills with a strong base of medical knowledge.