Ireland’s Call! A student perspective on SEM in Ireland – now and the future

Undergraduate perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine  a BJSM blog series

By Stuart O’Flanagan (@SROFlanagan)

Considerable momentum was gathered this past year from students in the UK, championing the cause of Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM).  As is often the case with close neighbours, such great noises have not gone unnoticed by your Irish colleagues! With the world’s greatest sporting event so close to our own door step, the positive effects of London 2012 have been palpable nationwide, not least amongst a generation of medical students who bore witness to a new potential career path (with many thanks to the BJSM Blog Series!).

FSEM Annual Scientific Meeting, Dublin, September 2012:  Left to right: Dr Nicholas Mahony, FSEM Board Member and MSc SEM co-ordinator in Trinity College Dublin, Dr Andrew-Franklyn-Miller, SEM Consultant, Sports Surgery Clinic, Santry, Stuart O’Flanagan, and Dr Eanna Falvey, FSEM Board Member and Director of SEM, Sports Surgery Clinic, Santry, IRFU National Team Doctor.
FSEM Annual Scientific Meeting, Dublin, September 2012:
Left to right: Dr Nicholas Mahony, FSEM Board Member and MSc SEM co-ordinator in Trinity College Dublin, Dr Andrew-Franklyn-Miller, SEM Consultant, Sports Surgery Clinic, Santry, Stuart O’Flanagan, and Dr Eanna Falvey, FSEM Board Member and Director of SEM, Sports Surgery Clinic, Santry, IRFU National Team Doctor.

Current State of Play

So how to pursue a career in Sports and Exercise Medicine in Ireland? The Faculty of Sports and Exercise Medicine Ireland, via the Irish Medical Council, offer access to the Specialist Register of Sport and Exercise Medicine to doctors who satisfy a number of requirements outlined under criteria here. There are a number of routes to obtaining this certificate of specialisation but unlike the UK, a dedicated SEM postgraduate training programme is not yet in place. The FSEM are actively working to address this and the most recent public update on their plans was published online in the BJSM here.

Many of the doctors currently practicing SEM have spent time abroad to pursue such training, with others having undertaken one of the recognised SEM MSc courses available in Ireland Although this speciality is very much in its infancy in Ireland, advances are being made at a rapid pace.

Immediate potential

Ireland boasts several world-class sporting facilities, which lend themselves to future opportunities in SEM, one such example being the University of Limerick (UL). UL is home to the country’s first Olympic standard swimming pool, the national strength and conditioning centre as well as acting as a hub to several national, Olympic and Paralympics standard athletes who come to train from home and abroad. The campus is also home to professional athletes such as Munster Rugby and occasional training camps for the Irish national rugby team. With faculties in Medicine, Physiotherapy, Physical Education and a Sports Science department that is world renowned for its research, UL provides an outstanding environment for the development of a Sports and Exercise Medicine hub. This example is not unique in Ireland however. Several other Universities with similar quality environments are in operation such as the Institute for Sport and Health at University College Dublin and the High Performance Unit in Dublin City University, amongst others.

So how can this help me as a medical student in Ireland? Other student contributors and SEM practitioners have disseminated some very solid advice via these blog series and podcasts, and the message here is no different. Seeking volunteer work in aforementioned facilities (you are Basic Life Support trained!), applying for mini-electives with SEM practitioners, choosing SEM related topics for your special study modules (performing audits or collecting data) are all realistic options. Perhaps one of the most underrated approaches (yet most accessible while at university) is to engage in multidisciplinary collaboration with students of other faculties (your future sports science and physiotherapy colleagues!). Providing evidence of this in the form of projects, such as initiatives to promote physical activity in the local community, would lay a great stepping-stone in the pursuit of future career opportunities in SEM.

The future is bright!

Though still early days here in Ireland, the advent of London 2012 and the work of our colleagues at the FSEM UK and BASEM are quickly charting new territory, further stimulating growth on this side of the Irish Sea. The FSEM Ireland will be establishing affiliation with a dedicated SEM student body in 2013, which it is hoped, will be linked via a network of student groups across the 6 medical schools in Ireland. Students that are interested in participating are invited to contact us at the address below. With a training scheme on the horizon, now is time to get active in SEM in as many ways you can. A good start would be to attend the FSEM Annual Scientific Conference 2013 in Dublin and maybe even to submit your research, or a poster to present for the poster competition! A new movement in SEM is gathering pace here in Ireland and it is time for the students to have their rightful presence on the map!


Stuart O’Flanagan is a 3rd year graduate entry medical student at the University of Limerick, Ireland. He is a practicing Chartered Physiotherapist and obtained an MSc in the Science and Medicine of Athletic Performance at the University of Oxford. Stuart is working with FSEM Ireland to establish Ireland’s first nationwide Sports and Exercise Medicine group for students and is actively recruiting medical students with an interest in this area. For more information please contact SEM Students Ireland or follow Stuart on Twitter @SROFlanagan.

Liam West BSc (Hons) is a final year medical undergraduate student at Cardiff University, Wales. He coordinates the “Undergraduate Perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine” Blog Series for BJSM.

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  • Great read and another super contribution to the BJSM blog. Following the creation of Sport and Exercise Medicine as a specialty in 2006 I was delighted to see that there was a career to pathway that I could follow in order to obtain the job I had always dreamed of. I had worked doing General Practice and hospital placements and often got frustrated at the lack of opportunity to educate both children and adults about the virtues of physical activity. I found that my consultations were so time demanding that there was never any expectation on medical professionals to promote and oversee the prescription of exercise as a tool to both treat and minimise the ranging affects of chronic disease. This was the job of a gym instructor, or a physiotherapist or a natural health practitioner.

    So move forward 6 years. We have had the most amazing Olympics to
    be held in the United Kingdom. Those that were lucky enough to be involved have left with memories that they will cherish for a lifetime. The success of both the organisers and the athletes has truly left a legacy, the defining aim of these Games. A legacy that stretches almost as far as Northern Ireland, but not quite. This coming August Northern Ireland will be left in the unenviable position as being the only region in the United kingdom without a training post in Sport and Exercise Medicine. The initial delight and impetus created in 2006
    with the formation of the specialty and the “Legacy” and hype provided by the Olympics alas can be measured by the solitary training post this region has seen since 2006.

    Following a letter asking the Northern Ireland Department of Health
    to explain this decision, they confirmed that they do not see a medical
    intervention as having a role to play in improving the populations’ physical activity levels. I believe that this is probably a reflection of Northern Irelands “special status” as being detached from UK national policy and not needing to echo UK government policy or the evidence-based proposals of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. The Health department of Northern Ireland (and medical training deanery) apparent stance is in direct conflict with the Government of the
    United Kingdom, who have supported the NHS in promoting
    active lifestyles as a major initiative. Healthcare professionals should see improving activity rates and getting their patients moving as central to their work.

    Their stance is also in conflict with NICE guidelines that have clearly demonstrated that although a brief intervention for physical activity in primary care costs between £20 and £440 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY), when reductions on health problems are taken into account, the net costs saved by the health service (and society) per QALY gained are between £750 and £3,150.

    From previous blogs on this site I have read that there is a lot of work being done within the NHS with respect to SEM training, such as a £30 million capital grant to develop a National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine (NCSEM). I am however concerned that this little area of the United Kingdom would prefer to take their slice of that £30 million and use it to increase the number of training posts for bariatric surgeons (no offence to bariatric surgeons, but it really looks like we are making a bolt for the fence after the horse has legged it!). In a region that has such a proud sorting tradition, the decision not to provide further SEM training posts can only serve to force our most promising undergraduates to leave Northern Ireland to pursue their careers elsewhere.

    Alas, it seems that in this time of economic difficulties, policy makers in Northern Ireland believe the cost savings associated with brief
    promotion of physical activity are probably not relevant, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom who seem to think that improving the health of the population whilst saving money is an important goal. I propose we use the money they save on the promotion of physical activity and give them all a pay-rise, to show how much we appreciate their contribution to the increased levels of heart disease, diabetes, cancer rates, mental health issues and respiratory disease.