A Life Less Ordinary

Embarking on a medical career can be daunting. The Graduate Entry Medical School is celebrating 10 years since its foundation. Here, two graduates from its first class share their experiences.

The graduate entry medical programme at University of Limerick’s Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) is a four-year medical degree open to graduates from any discipline.

Its highly innovative curriculum is designed to produce competent, confident and caring doctors who recognise the social and environmental context in which health and illness exist and in which medicine is practised and who have skills for and commitment to service, scientific enquiry and life-long learning. Two graduates from the inaugural class reveal how the course has not only shaped their professional approach, but their personal outlook.

Brian King, a graduate of the Graduate Entry Medical Programme, 2011

Currently a final year GP registrar in his native Salthill, Brian King was one of the first graduates of the Graduate Entry Medical School in 2011.

Managing the perceptions people have about the role of a doctor is something that can only be learned with experience.

I feel from the start of my medical career, the clinical exposure we were given in the GEMS programme definitely had us well prepared. It set me up for the job of being a doctor, both in hospital and primary care. Given that we were the first graduates of the programme, we certainly had an element of curiosity attached to us.

In the past seven years since I’ve graduated, medicine and surgery have progressed at a phenomenal rate. Some drugs and diabetes treatments were only coming on stream when we were medical students and interns, and now I routinely prescribe them on a daily basis. The key is that GEMS prepared me for a life of self-directed learning, and that learning will be life long.

I’ve learned a lot about medicine from GEMS and since leaving the programme, and I’ve also learned a lot more about life. Recognising and managing the perceptions and thoughts people have about the role of a doctor is something that can only really be learned with experience. Medicine is a very rewarding career, professionally and personally. It can be very tough sometimes, and there will still be years of training once you qualify.

Four years of college at graduate entry is a big commitment. If you are considering the GEMS programme, you need to ask yourself if you are someone who is able to self-direct their learning. I had a great four years in UL – it’s top class when it comes to sports facilities. I had a hard time going back to being a student again after working for a number of years, but it was great.

Brian King, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, Graduate Entry Medical Programme, 2011

Lee Yap, (centre) graduate of the GEMS programme, 2011

Lee Yap is also one of the first GEMS Graduates, and is currently completing a higher specialist training scheme in surgery, with a specialisation in urology, at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.

I graduated from University of Limerick in 2011, and have since worked in eight different hospitals, moved seven times, worked up to 80 consecutive hours, performed hundreds of operations and have come close to throwing in the towel twice. Surgery is a mentally and physically challenging career that can take a toll, but ultimately I enjoy my work and find it very rewarding – that is why I go back every day. I learned you need to take control. Decide your own goals, and back yourself to achieve them. The programme may not suit everyone but it certainly offers the resources and skills to become a great doctor. It isn’t an easy ride, but there is no substitute for hard work and perseverance.

My approach to both managing patients and achieving various goals is fuelled by the skills I learned in the GEMS programme. GEMS is as much about giving you a set of skills to take with you, as it is about knowledge acquisition. The world of medicine is constantly evolving, and trying to keep up with all the latest clinical trials and research publications can be difficult. The professional competencies modules that ran throughout the programme, spanning topics such as health, law, ethics and more, have stood to me as these topics come to the fore at some point during a career in medicine.

My approach to both managing patients and achieving various goals is fuelled by the skills I learned in the GEMS programme.

I look back on my time in UL with great fondness. During my clinical years in the GEMS programme, I conducted an orthopedic-based audit of hip fractures in the Emergency Department at University Hospital Limerick. This won me a prize at the medical school and my work was also accepted for presentation at a national meeting. Although research can be time consuming and often a frustrating process, it is a skill that gets easier.

As the first GEMS class, we were missing the bricks and mortar of a medical school, but what we did have was an excellent faculty that supported and guided us through. There was a great camaraderie between the faculty and the class, as well as within the class itself. The friendships I have taken away with me are the most precious, and I am very proud to be a University of Limerick graduate.

Lee Yap, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, Graduate Entry Medical Programme, 2011

Head, Graduate Entry Medical School, Desmond Leddin cites the programme’s successes to date, with an eye to future goals.

The student experience

As Ireland’s first wholly graduate entry medical school, we take students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds. We also have a very active access programme. This diversity produces physicians with a variety of perspectives who are well positioned to meet the needs of a rapidly diversifying Irish society. Our students have been the recipients of many national awards and are recognised internationally for their excellent skills.

Patient care

The impact on patient care has been striking. GEMS students spend 18 weeks in GP practices, many of these are in rural areas. The students energise the practices and communities in which they work. We are very proud of our GP network which includes 130 practices and nearly 500,000 patients. In addition to the UHL hospital network, we have developed state-of-the-art learning facilities in Kilkenny, Clonmel, Tullamore, Portlaoise and Ballinasloe.


Last year University Hospital Limerick (UHL) had the highest number of interns ever and the majority are GEMS students. The transformation of the former Regional into University Hospital Limerick has attracted outstanding physicians back to the region who would otherwise not have come. The benefits to the population of the region are clear.

UL international profile

One third of GEMS students are international, with a predominance of Canadians. As these students, and EU students as well, go out into practice, the international reputation of UL as a centre of learning grows. GEMS graduates are laying down solid footprints in clinical and research work especially in North America but in other countries as well.


GEMS researchers are active in a number of areas including clinical care, education, migrant and refugee health and the basic sciences of infection and cancer. We are opening labs in the state-of-the-art Clinical Education and Research Centre which UL has built at UHL with our HSE partners. This will further link the university campus and the developing academic health sciences centre at UHL.

  • To make GEMS the preferred destination for graduate entry medical education in Europe.
  • To grow the academic health centre at UHL so that we retain our graduates in Ireland and contribute to the education of our health care professional colleagues in other disciplines.
  • To answer research questions which will help improve lives at home and globally. UL

Desmond Leddin is Head of the Graduate Entry Medical School, University of Limerick, Ireland and a Professor of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Canada



View more images for this article »