At least 200 international medical students are on a waiting list for a vital part of their training, as limited access to internships continues.
This has been an issue for some time, according to the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) but last year when the pandemic crisis hit the number of places was suddenly increased by 300.
But while 992 interns took up a place last year, this year the quota stops at 854, according to the HSE.
Senior industrial relations officer with the IMO Paul Maier said international students pay fees of up to €50,000 annually for the academic part of the course.
Some spend up to seven years studying here. But without the practical clinical internship year, they cannot practice as doctors, he said.
“Applicants have contacted me and said they are ranked 200th on the waiting list.
“What that means is there are 854 positions but there are an additional 200 people at least who have applied and who are on a waiting list,” he said.
He said Irish medical students rarely turn down this internship, and he would not be optimistic for those waiting.
Sinn Féin spokesman on health David Cullinane said the HSE rowed back on the offer of extra places once the crisis passed, only offering a small increase in places to 854 instead of 734 following public pressure in March this year.
“It seems odd to say the least, and very frustrating that people come over to Ireland, go through the medical colleges and then do not have an opportunity to do an internship which would allow them to work in the Irish health system,” he said.
"These interns are needed to help in hospitals and other shortage areas, including rural health and public health.
“When they come here and want to stay, it is frustrating for them and for the health system that those people then can’t be utilised here. At a very low cost from my perspective, it would be better to increase the internships,” he said.
One of those students is American Dr Isadora Lamego.
Her undergraduate degree was in public health at the University of California, Berkeley.
She then studied for four years with the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, and would like to be a rural GP in the west of Ireland.
Studying and working in Beaumont Hospital during the pandemic, she found out recently that despite her high results she is Number 93 on the list.
“It isn’t good at all, it is very rare to get down to 93 people denying their position on the list,” she said.
So now Dr Lamego and her Irish partner of two years are considering bringing forward their wedding plans.
“Basically my options are that I stay in Ireland and try to sort out my (visa) stamp, get married and see if that is going to help,” she said.
“My other choices are that I go to the UK. Or I go train in the United States, or I basically can’t work.”
She knows two people who have already taken this last-ditch option, and said other American and Canadian students have talked to her about it in recent days.
“I really don’t think it is OK that my professional ability and the professional ability of my classmates is ultimately going to be judged by whether or not we have an Irish partner,” she said.
“I’d like to think I am a good doctor independently of having a wonderful future husband.”
A HSE spokeswoman said they have no input into how many students medical colleges accept, and said 854 places already exceeds current recommendations.
“The number of intern places is directly linked to workforce planning projections for the needs of the health service (specialist consultants and GPs) and the numbers of training posts available in specialist training programmes, the next step in the training pathway following completion of an internship,” she said.
“Any planned increase to intern numbers must be in line with current workforce planning.”
Over 200 students from medical schools in other countries also applied, this year, she said with 42 eligible to be considered.