Cailean Dolan, 25, is in his fourth year of medical school at Queen’s University.
But because he did biomedical science first, the Fermanagh man has to fund the £4,530 a year fees for the five year undergraduate degree.
And he believes Northern Ireland is losing a lot of medical talent as a result.
“Medicine is a vocation, it’s something that you work hard in your entire life,” he said.
“The fact you get penalised for having done an extra degree before is something I find ridiculous.
“It’s quite popular to do a degree first and build up your knowledge, experience and get a good grounding. That’s a recognised route into medicine.
“The new Magee campus for medicine is exclusively post grad so you have to have done a degree before.
“In my year, at least a third, if not more, have done a degree before.”
The Department of Health say that according to Queen’s University’s own figures “between 22% and 32%” of their undergraduate medical students between 2012-2017 had a previous degree.
But since Queen’s provides the only medical degree currently offered in NI the course is always “heavily oversubscribed”.
For Cailean this meant he didn’t win a place after finishing his A-Levels.
“I was really pushed and determined to want to do medicine from no age,” he explained.
“I applied for medicine as a school leaver but I didn’t get in so I thought it was a good idea to give myself a little bit of time for maturity and learn some, not only life skills, but direct hard science.
“I reapplied and got in without any issue.
“I needed those years to grow before going straight into medicine which I will be working in for my entire life, fingers crossed.”
But fulfilling that dream has proved expensive and challenging.
“Recently there was additional funding for nursing and allied healthcare professionals and it does seem like in medicine it is assumed that everyone’s parents are doctors and will have vast sums of money to draw on,” he added.
“I have been working constantly since I started medicine at Queen’s. I have kept up a part-time job at Specsavers and then with Covid, transitioned to working in the hospital.
“If I wasn’t working I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills,” he added.
“I have been lucky enough to get some help from my family. But when you are studying medicine your priority should be being the most well educated doctor when you are emerging from medical school as you can possibly be.
“Everyone is constantly calling out for more doctors but then as a medical student you get forgotten about.”
Now is his seventh year of university, with another to go, the budding doctor says he has amassed huge debts.
“The medical degree will be £4,500 a year times the five years. Then you have rent costs and living in the city. The only help you get is your maintenance loan.
“In the final year, you don’t get any extra help.
“It’s like, you already owe money, so somehow you can pull another £5,000 out of thin air.
“Postgraduates are bringing extra to the table [but] not only do they not get any help in terms of paying for the tuition, they have to pay an extra year themselves.”
Postgraduates reading medicine in England, Scotland and Wales on the other hand get their final year paid for by the NHS.
“It doesn’t really make sense,” Cailean added.
“When it comes to healthcare politics in NI you have an occasional oversight. There doesn’t seem to be any justification for this irregularity.
“We shouldn’t be treated worse as postgrads because I already owe a small fortune.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “There is no shortage of individuals wishing to study medicine in Northern Ireland; this course is always heavily oversubscribed.”
Because it is “the most expensive higher education course for the government to provide” they added that “the Northern Ireland Executive’s current approach is to target our limited financial resources in supporting those undertaking a primary degree, thereby enabling a greater number of students to benefit from third level education”.
Even when Ulster University’s Graduate Entry Medical School opens, providing an additional 70 places for the four-year degree per year, they anticipate medicine will still be oversubscribed under the “current system of student support”.
But that “this position will be kept in review”.
DoH say they do not have policy responsibility when it comes to Higher Education.
However, Department for the Economy, which does says: “Funding for medical education is a policy matter for the Department of Health in the first instance.”
If you would like to sign Cailean’s petition on the issue, click here.
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