The one-week externships, at the largest London clinic of the British Pregnancy Advisory Services in Richmond, will allow students witness how abortion procedures are carried out.
According to Medical Students For Choice, which supports the BPAS programme, it gives students the opportunity to learn about aspects of women’s healthcare that are not part of routine medical training courses in Ireland.
“At the moment in Ireland, there is a lot of stuff they don’t go over [in medical education] such as how to do it [abortions] and the circumstances in which an abortion can be performed,” said MSFC member Amelia Reid. “A lot of medical students are scared about finding themselves in a situation where they need to know what to do to save a life.”
The Richmond clinic carries out approximately 200 abortions a week, both surgical and medical.
A BPAS spokeswoman said the only criteria for taking part in the course was that the medical student had completed one year of medical school, had a basic medical knowledge, an understanding of confidentiality and ethics, and was able to explain in writing why they wanted to take part. She said they were not looking for students “at an advanced point in their studies”, although such students would not be excluded.
The spokeswoman said students would get a “complete overview” of the patient’s experience at the clinic, from pre-abortion counselling to choices for contraception afterwards.
She said BPAS opened the course to applicants in Irish medical schools after last year’s course — the first British course run by BPAS — attracted considerable attention from Ireland. As part of the course, students will also work with Antenatal Choices and Results, a charity that supports parents whose unborn baby is diagnosed with foetal anomaly.
Richard Lyus, who will mentor students on the BPAS scheme, said they were looking ahead “to a time when the law enables doctors in Ireland to provide abortion care to all women who need it”.
“We hope these placements will give Ireland’s next generation of doctors important insight into the needs of women in this situation, which they can make use of in the course of their careers,” said Dr Lyus.
Ms Reid said MSFC has a presence in all of the medical schools in Ireland, with the exception of University College Cork.
She said approximately 250 students in Ireland joined MSFC’s database since it set up here two years ago and that it hoped to provide financial assistance to Irish students accepted on the BPAS course. The educational aspect of the course is provided free of charge, courtesy of BPAS.
The legal limit for abortion in Britain is 24 weeks. Each year, approximately 4,500 Irish women travel to Britain for an abortion.