The HSE said the change means applicants for internships who entered an Irish medical school through the Central Applications Office (CAO) will be prioritised in the first round of intern offers.
This puts non-EU applicants at an immediate disadvantage as they are required to submit their applications directly to the colleges and not the CAO.
It means international students who pay fees up to €52,500 per year to study in our medical schools are effectively shuffled to the bottom of the pile when it comes to awarding internships.
This year, 1,100 medical students are competing for just 727 internship positions. Successful completion of an internship is necessary to acquire a certificate of experience which allows a student to continue with specialist training.
One North American student who contacted the Irish Examiner said while she pays almost €40,000 per annum, exclusive of living costs, to attend medical school and ranks “in the top 10 in my class ”, she faces the prospect of not securing an internship.
“This is because the HSE has now chosen not to prioritise academic achievement and qualifications, but is instead prioritising nationality and where someone attended secondary school,” she said.
The student, who is an Irish citizen, said her compatriots are paying roughly “€256,800 to €310,000 per student” to study here, including cost of living. “However, I now have to accept I may not be successful in securing a job in Ireland, even as an Irish citizen,” she said.
Overseas Medics of Ireland, a non-EU doctors’ organisation in Ireland, said it “constantly fights against the widespread discrimination and lack of transparency in the Irish health system”. This includes “lack of internship opportunities to all non-EU medical students studying in Ireland”.
A spokesperson said that the situation showed “poor planning” and a “parochial attitude” at the Department of Health, “where non-EU students were used only as cash cows”.
Commenting on the rule change, the HSE said it followed consultation with the Department of Health and would ensure, against a backdrop of a limited number of intern posts, that “all state-funded graduates may obtain full registration with the Medical Council”.
“They may then enter the training system and the health service workforce in Ireland,” the HSE said.
The HSE said the change means that applicants who entered an Irish medical school through the CAO will be prioritised in the first round of intern offers.
“Following that stage the remaining places will be offered to non-CAO/ international entry EEA [European Economic Area] applicants. The remaining available places are then offered to non-EEA applicants,” it said.
Of the 1,100 applicants applying for internships for 2015/ 2016, 784 are Irish/ EU from Irish medical schools (784), 22 are Irish/ EU from overseas medical schools (22), and 291 are non-EU from Irish medical schools.