Training Ireland’s clinician scientists of the future

28 August 2017 

Training Ireland’s clinician scientists of the future

  • New Academic Track for internship helps junior doctors take on critical research projects alongside standard clinical training
  • First set of interns to tackle issues like HIV prevention in Ireland, suicide and loneliness in rural men, and ovarian cancer

Dublin, Monday August 28th, 2017 – A group of 24 new junior doctors across Ireland have recently begun a brand new style of training which will see them embarking on critical research projects alongside their standard clinical training in hospitals around the country. The junior doctors are taking part in a new training scheme called the Academic Track for Internship which supports them in undertaking a research or quality improvement project through funding, protected time, mentorship and training in research skills.


“Every year, Ireland loses some of its top-performing medical school graduates to academic programmes in the UK and further afield.  One of the aims of creating this opportunity for interns was to retain this talent in Ireland.  The academic track provides a pathway for the clinician scientists of the future right from the start of their careers.  Not only that, but the healthcare system will stand to benefit from the innovations and discoveries their research will bring,” said Professor Martina Hennessy, Associate Dean of Research, Trinity College Dublin.

Some of the areas these new doctors will be investigating include: premature babies and brain haemorrhaging, traumatic brain injury in young people, cutting-edge methods for diagnosing ovarian cancer, and depression in men living in rural Ireland.

Professor Hennessy continued: “The recruitment process for the academic track was highly competitive. Successful candidates were chosen for their outstanding academic performance and commitment to clinical excellence, with many having already made valuable contributions to clinical research.”

The Academic Track is the result of a collaboration between the Intern Network Executive, Irish Medical Council and the HSE.  The Intern Network Executive oversees intern training in collaboration with the medical schools, and represents each of the six intern networks: Dublin Mid-Leinster (UCD), Dublin North-East (RCSI), Dublin South-East (TCD), Mid-West (UL), South (UCC) and West North-West (NUIG).  Posts are funded by the HSE with 24 places available nationally, four in each of the six networks.

Speaking at a meet and greet with the new junior doctors, Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor TD said: “It is more important than ever that we provide world class research and training opportunities for our interns so that Ireland can remain one of the top innovation nations in the world. The new Academic Track promotes clinical research opportunities and will be a vital component in strengthening Ireland's training programmes. Having met the first junior doctors to take part in this programme I believe the future of clinical research in this country will be in safe hands and programmes such as this are the ideal way to harness their exceptional abilities to the benefit of the Irish health system and patients in Ireland."

Dr Páraic Behan, Academic Intern, RCSI/Beaumont Hospital said: “The academic track programme has allowed me to combine my passion for individual patient care with a research study which has the potential to improve outcomes for a wide range of patients in the future.”

Dr Elaine Burke, Assistant Professor in Intern Education and Training, Trinity said: “We are delighted to have been able to offer these highly talented graduates an opportunity to remain in Ireland as they begin their careers in academic medicine.”

The academic track internship initiative provides an early and dedicated focus on research skills among doctors, and builds on research opportunities that are available from undergraduate training across the Irish medical schools.  Importantly, it prepares young graduates to take up funding and clinical research opportunities such as the ICAT training scheme as they progress towards more senior roles in the health system.

 Highlighted research projects

Tiny particles and tiny humans – understanding how nanoparticles may contribute to disability and death in premature babies.

Daniel O’Reilly, an academic track intern at Trinity College Dublin, will be focusing on the tiniest of people, premature babies, for his research. Premature babies are very prone to blood clotting and haemorrhaging, so much so that they are routinely screened for this. Complications from blood haemorrhaging to the brain can include developing cerebral palsy, other disabilities and even death, even in developed countries like Ireland. The reasons for clotting dysfunction in premature babies is poorly understood. Using blood samples from the Rotunda of premature and full term babies, Daniel’s research will examine nanoparticles called extracellular vesicles, to see what effect they may have in contributing to these issues in premature babies, compared with term babies.

Real Cases, Real People – using 3D Printing to improve medical simulation training.

Tiarnán Byrne, an academic track intern at University College Dublin will be focusing on using new technologies to improve the realism of medical simulation training. Simulation training involves recreating real life scenarios within a controlled educational setting. Doctors and other healthcare professionals use this training to help prepare them for high-pressure situations, in particular medical emergencies. However, the models and manikins used to represent patients during this training often bear little resemblance to the real patient. This limits the realism of the simulation experience and hence limits learning. By using a combination of 3D printing, advanced materials and MRI scans of real patients, Tiarnán is aiming to produce a model that will look and feel more like a real patient. It will breathe, bleed and allow participants to practice performing a rare but life-saving surgical procedure known as a cricothyroidotomy.

Preventing HIV in Ireland – the cost and bioethics of prophylactic prevention

Ralph Hurley O’Dwyer, an academic track intern at Trinity College Dublin will be examining the complex world of bioethics, drug prices and prescribing practices in prevention and prophylaxis against HIV in Ireland. Currently, one person is diagnosed with HIV every 18 hours in Ireland. PrEP a pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV is almost 100% effective at preventing HIV when taken properly. However, there are cost implications for the State at a time when the health service is at the cusp of a new age in which ever more expensive medications compete within a finite health budget.

Making sense of sadness - eliciting illness, meaning and experience of rural Irish males

Despite suicide rates being three times higher in men, rates of diagnosed depression are more than twice as high in women. This begs many questions, including is there a level of under-reporting when it comes to male depression; are men not seeking out the help they may need, or are male expressions of distress, such as work problems or aggression, not being appropriately recognised? Michael Creed, academic track intern at NUI Galway will be trying to find some answers by interviewing men affected by depression in rural Ireland. He hopes the study will help us see how we can adapt our services to meet the needs of men in rural areas. He will also examine broader social issues and initiatives which may help with upstream prevention of depression in this group, such as community farming initiatives and Men's Sheds. 

Post concussion syndrome in children – who suffers and what part does inflammation play?

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is more common in childhood and adolescence than at any other time in life. One in seven children under the age of 16 will continue to have symptoms several months following TBI, which is known as 'post concussion syndrome'. Eimear Duff, an academic track intern at Trinity College Dublin, will be working with a research team to better understand post concussion syndrome in children. In particular she will look at the role of inflammation in the body and brain to understand if it affects which children may get prolonged concussion symptoms. Using the latest high powered MRI technology at St James’s hospital, blood tests, neuropsychology and more, the team will examine the level of inflammation in the body after concussion. They hope to discover whether it is at the right level to help a child heal or if there is persistent excessive inflammation. They will also examine whether they can find a treatment to help manage those inflammation levels to support healing and recovery.