Dedicated health professionals have been praised by leading sports and media stars at an event hosted by the Junior Health Sciences Academy, which sought to inspire thousands of students to seek a career in healthcare for themselves.
Their message was delivered to the over 10,000 Transition Year students who attended the two-day Junior Health Sciences Academy Early Careers showcase. One of the year’s biggest events of its kind, the virtual event was open to students throughout Ireland, and recorded a big attendance of students from Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary.
Hosted by the Health Sciences Academy (HSA), together with Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board and Limerick Education Centre, the webinar gave students valuable information about the educational courses and careers that are open to them in healthcare in the Mid West region.
The Health Sciences Academy is a partnership between the University of Limerick, UL Hospitals Group and HSE Mid West Community Healthcare. The three partners in HSA share the aim of improving health and wellbeing for the people of the Midwest. The Junior Health Sciences Academy is part of this partnership, aiming to support students in early careers, health promotion and leadership in health.
Among the highlights of the two-day programme were a series of insightful ‘fireside chats’ with leading figures from the worlds of sport and media, who imparted some of the lessons learned during their careers to help the students as they prepare to embark on their own.
Munster Rugby star and World Cup winner with South Africa Damien de Allende encouraged the students to keep a balance in their lives while studying and assessing their career goals. “Once I put my mind to something, I try to do that 100%. My mindset, when in High School, was that I wanted to play professional rugby, but I also wanted to try other things. I was going to do whatever it took to be successful, and that worked out. But I’ve always learned to do things with a smile on my face, and have fun while I’m doing it. There is a time to laugh, and a time to be serious, but in any given moment just realise that you probably know what you’re doing.”
Irish hockey international Sarah Hawkshaw gave a revealing insight into the important role played by the likes of physiotherapists, nutritionists and psychologists who work with the national side. The Tokyo 2020 Olympian, herself a Public Health Sciences graduate, said their support is crucial to the team’s success. “They do a lot of ground work off the pitch that isn’t always seen, but is so important in elite sport. It’s all the 1% differences that you have to make. They contribute so much to our programme.”
All-Ireland winning hurler with Galway Joe Canning also spoke highly of the medical staff who supported him during his career. Offering his advice to the teenagers in attendance, the former Hurler of the Year encouraged them to take on challenges and broaden their horizons. “The biggest thing for me in any walk of life is not being afraid to fail. A lot of people in today’s world are afraid to feel bad about themselves, or to feel failure. But I think failure is sometimes a good thing. It’s a part of life. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t fail you don’t learn. Failure can give you the opportunity to become better again.”
Television and radio presenter Louise Cantillon spoke of the importance of resilience and resourcefulness. The SPIN South West broadcaster spoke openly about some of the setbacks she has experienced in her career, but also of how she used her background as a teacher and fluent Irish speaker to carve out new opportunities. “When things go wrong, you could wallow and feel sorry for yourself. Or, you can take out a pen and paper and write down what you’re good at, and figure out how you can create another break for yourself. Sometimes you just have to go back to the drawing board, look at the skills you have, re-jig them, and do something else.”
Over the course of both days, students also heard directly from healthcare staff, including doctors, nurses and midwives, paramedics and allied health professionals – working in both hospital and the community settings. In all, staff representing 20 different professions described their working days, their career journeys and offered advice to second level students considering a career in healthcare.
Students also learned all about college life from those enrolled in the various health sciences programmes at the University of Limerick, including nursing, midwifery, medicine, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, human nutrition and dietetics, occupational therapy, psychology and paramedic studies. University of Limerick staff were also on hand to give advice on programmes and entry requirements.
Miriam McCarthy, Health Sciences Academy Manager, said: “Last year’s Early Careers event was a huge success – students told us how informative they found it. This year has built on that, with a greater variety of healthcare professionals involved. We invited schools from all over the country to join, and because the event was held online we saw huge interest. Schools have set up screens in assembly halls and classrooms and students are joining in to watch the sessions they are interested in. Our goal is to share the ‘day in the life’ experience of those working in healthcare, those studying health sciences in UL and university requirements. We were delighted to have been joined by Damian de Allende, Sarah Hawkshaw, Joe Canning and Louise Cantillon who all spoke very honestly. I also want to thank all of our other speakers for their contributions too. We hope to have inspired a generation to consider a career in healthcare, and helped them see how rewarding this can be.”