“Let us never consider ourselves finished nurses. We must be learning all of our lives," Florence Nightingale, the founder of the modern nursing profession, once said, and her words are as relevant today as when she uttered them in the 19th century. A degree in nursing opens up a world of possibilities. While the discipline is naturally focused on caring for others, it also provides almost infinite opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Ciarán Freeman, now in his third year student on the four-year Bachelor of Nursing Science programme at NUI Galway, decided to pursue a career in nursing after completing a BSc in immunology at DIT.
"When I was in secondary school I had been looking at a few different things," he recalled. "I'd been involved in water safety and lifeguarding, and my nana pushed me towards the local Order of Malta, so that pushed me in that direction. I always had nursing in mind. I studied science first, which is still very interesting."
Mr Freeman started in first year on the programme in 2019, just months before the Covid-19 pandemic began. With 60 per cent of the programme focused on clinical placement, this has created some interesting challenges for students.
"Our placements have continued as they would have beforehand," he said. "They were never easy, but there is this added layer of complexity. Any nursing student will tell you that they prefer placements to actual theory, and that’s why we get into nursing. It’s a difficult time for all students at the moment, plenty of us have been on Covid wards, but you just have to go in and get your head down, and just do it."
The pandemic has also seen him become involved in union activism, working in the interests of student nurses during this challenging time.
"That’s another aspect of nursing that isn’t immediately obvious," he said. "It's the biggest profession in the Irish healthcare service, and there are options beyond bedside nursing.
"This is a real seller for nursing, it’s a perfect blend of science and humanities," he added. "You learn about the discipline of nursing itself, but also the science behind it, pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, how disease processes work, and how we treat them. You're also learning about the art of taking care of people beside the science behind it."
When it comes to specialising, the options are almost endless, ensuring a rewarding career well into the future.
"My own plans change every few months when I get exposed to new things," Mr Freeman said of his own future plans. "At the minute I’d love to go into children's nursing, and specifically children’s critical care. I’m really interested in public health and sexual health as well. Even if I decide 20 years down the road to change over, once you're registered as a general nurse, nothing can stop you. There is an infinite amount of specialities you can go into, and even if the speciality you want doesn't exist, you can make it exist."
Nursing has traditionally been a female-dominated profession, and this has not changed much over the years. However Mr Freeman, one of just two male students in a class of 70, is encouraging young men to get involved in this rewarding career.
"It’s still very female dominated, about 93 per cent of nurses in Ireland are female, and men are mainly in psychiatric or intellectual disability nursing," he said. "But I’ve never been made to feel like an outsider or a token male, and it has given me the best role models.
"There is also a global shortage of nurses, and we need to get more men into nursing. There is this disconnect between promoting nursing as a college course to lads in secondary schools, and engaging with it in future studies. It's not really promoted as much as it should be. At bit of that comes down to the fact that there is not a lot of media portrayal of men in nursing.
"I’m a big fan of nursing, I'm really enthusiastic and passionate about it," he added. "It opens an infinite amount of doors for people. If you're a lad, that doesn't mean that you can’t do it and can’t excel in it."
You can find out more about the nursing course at NUI Galway at www.nuigalway.ie/medicine-nursing-and-health-sciences