Nicola Hunter had a successful career in investment banking, working as a consultant in London’s Canary Wharf before landing a place at Ulster University’s brand-new School of Medicine at Magee – the first graduate entry medical school in Northern Ireland.

The Antrim woman, who has a degree in accountancy from Jordanstown, is one of 70 post-graduate students training to become a doctor on the four-year course. Alongside her studies, the 25-year-old is also still employed part-time as a consultant with Vox Financial Partners in Belfast.

Congratulations on being part of the new medical school’s first intake! How is the course going so far?

There was so much excitement on the first day. Walking up towards the library and the medical school building, there were news reporters and TV cameras everywhere. I got interviewed by the BBC on my way in – I still haven’t brought myself to watch that back yet!

The facilities are amazing and they’ve set the course out very well – especially for me coming from a non-science background. There are quite a lot of courses where for the first two years you’re just learning the scientific aspects, whereas at Ulster we were straight in with a case to work on immediately. So, you’re getting the clinical side of it along with the science. You’re very much working off real-life examples, which keeps it interesting.

One of the main reasons I chose this course was that, yes you need to know the scientific background to be a confident doctor, but you also need to know how to talk to people. We have clinical skills groups every week for a full afternoon where you’re going through those core communication skills of how to treat a person, not just whatever disease or illness is in front of you. 

Why did you make the switch from accountancy to medicine?

I’d always wanted to do medicine, but it’s so competitive to get into. I was always very good at maths, so it was sort of a spur of the moment decision during my A levels to give accountancy a go. It turned out to not be my cup of tea, but I knew it was a good degree to have. By the time I got to final year, I knew I didn’t want to train to be an accountant, but I needed a break from exams.

I worked in investment banking in Belfast for a while, did some travelling in Vancouver, then took a job working in investment banking in Canary Wharf. I was project manager on a Brexit team while I was studying for the Gamsat (Graduate Medical School Admissions Test). The hours were crazy – you were getting up, working all day until God knows what time, revising at lunchtime, and then having to revise for hours at night. But by some miracle, I passed!

How was the move from London to Derry?

London is such a fast-paced life, you’re out every night doing different things, but it’s nice to be home and get a bit of a breath back. I moved from London on the Friday and started uni on the Monday. The first day home I was straight to the beach. Getting out and being able to walk in the fresh air, and not be surrounded by traffic and skyscrapers, is fantastic.

Derry has that homely feeling. People here actually want to stop and speak to you in shops and cafes, they’ll chat away to you, so it was really nice to come back to that. I’m looking forward to exploring the beaches up here properly and going to the bars and restaurants here.

Will you bring any skills from your previous career into medicine?

In consultancy, you’re used to working in an environment that is high pressure and long hours. I think time management and knowing how to balance those things will help massively. I’m still working part time for Vox, they’ve been very encouraging and accommodating. letting me work very flexibly. 

How do you find studying medicine during a global pandemic?

You want to be able to help; I suppose that’s one of the main reasons for wanting to be a doctor. So Covid didn’t really put me off in any way. I’m looking forward to being out on the GP placement and even in the hospital. 

What are the other students like on the course?

It’s very diverse, and the age range is broad too. There are people from quite a scientific background – biomedicine, pharmacy, a few nursing students and physios, and then we have people who’ve done social work, and people me who did something completely different like accountancy or business. It means when you’re in a group looking at a case, there are so many different ways of thinking that you just wouldn’t get on an undergraduate course, where everyone’s done science A-Levels and they’re all starting fresh.

Have you thought about what type of medicine you’d like to specialise in?

I’d be leaning towards something like emergency medicine, A and E. I clearly love to be stressed! Or some sort of surgery perhaps – Ear, Nose and Throat surgery has always appealed to me.

Kieran Kennedy, former Managing Director of O’Neills Irish International Sports Company, is set to share his innovation insights in an upcoming webinar.

The October 14 ‘Playing the Innovation Game’ event is the second in the Innovation Stories webinar series, which follow the signing of the historic Derry & Strabane City Deal in February, and also come as Northern Ireland embarks on a Decade of Innovation, set out in the recent publication of the Department for the Economy’s 10X Economy paper.

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Ulster University are collaborating on the series in which City Deal partners select case studies from the region, discuss what innovation means within a business, offer and general advice on embracing digital technologies.

Rosalind Young, Council’s investment manager, said: “Through the visionary Derry and Strabane City Deal, a whole new innovation eco-system will develop here in the region. The people behind the City Deal are inviting businesses to hear best practice and to leave with an idea of how they will play their part in the Decade of Innovation that is ahead.”

For further information and to book go to

The region’s first ever BSc Hons Paramedic Sciences programme is now underway, with Ulster University welcoming 40 students to the Magee campus.

With funding support from the Department of Health, the new three-year course will be based within the university’s multi-award-winning School of Nursing.

This course will support the development of the paramedic profession in Northern Ireland and further afield. Until now, local students wishing to become paramedics had to travel to the south of Ireland or across the Irish Sea to complete a BSc Hons programme in Paramedic Science.

The first cohort ranges in age from school leavers to people in their forties and a wide range of backgrounds – from those embarking on a change of career from accountancy to insurance, to people working in similar fields: ambulance care assistant, lifeguard, emergency medical dispatcher and humanitarian.

They will learn a wide range of skills through frequent experience and learning inside an exact replica of an ambulance – the only one of its kind in the region – coupled with 60 weeks of practice-based learning with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and a range of other hospital and community-based experience in the other Health and Social Care Trusts and independent sector partners.

The students will also have access to a wealth of specially designed training spaces from a hospital ward, simulated bedrooms and living room recreated on campus, to clinical skills rooms and the latest equipment.

Ulster University’s new School of Medicine at Magee has welcomed its very first intake of 70 students.

The first cohort to enter the first graduate entry medical school in Northern Ireland is made up of students with a wide range of related and non-scientific/healthcare backgrounds from politics to investment banking, radiography, management consultancy, optometry, forensic science, nursing and even a previous lecturer in Irish at Magee.

The opening of the School of Medicine, in a newly refurbished building with state-of-the-art facilities, comes just six months after the signing of the City Deal’s Heads of Terms, as the region prepares itself to capitalise on further growth in the burgeoning Life Sciences sector in Northern Ireland.

Professor Louise Dubras, Foundation Dean at the School of Medicine, Ulster University said: “I am very proud of our new School of Medicine which in itself marks the continued transformation of the Magee campus into a hub for Health and Innovation, as a pre-emptive part of the Derry and Strabane City Deal.

“Medical schools are sometimes located in a hospital setting but I want our students to learn near the city’s GPs and the population they will go on to care for. The School of Medicine will act as their home, a welcoming place, for the future doctors who are embarking on a challenging yet hugely rewarding journey with us.”

Derry’s affordability and attractiveness as a place to live has been highlighted by two major surveys.

The Walled City was named the most affordable city in the UK to live in for the third year in a row, while a separate poll selected it as one of the Top 20 best places to live in Ireland.

Research by Halifax found that with the cost of an average city home in the UK now eight times earnings, Derry remains the UK’s most affordable city, with an average house price of £155,917 or less than five times earnings.

Meanwhile, the city also joins the top 20 contenders in the running to scoop the Irish Times’ Best Place to Live in Ireland title.

A total of 470 locations were nominated and whittled down to just 20 by a panel of judges, based on criteria including community spirit, local services and amenities, diversity, transport links, vibrancy of the local economy, cost of living, safety and the unique ‘X factor’.

The Irish Times judges said: “Derry offers a good quality of life and the ‘best of both worlds’ in there is access to the amenities and opportunities provided by a city but also beaches and countryside nearby. The people are often cited as one of the best things about the city. They are extremely proud of their city and loyal to it, but also friendly and welcoming to outsiders.”

A nanotechnology consortium to develop new technology for medical devices, communication and data storage has been awarded £42.4m by the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Strength in Places Fund.

Smart Nano NI is led by Seagate Technology in collaboration with North West Regional College, Analytics Engines, Causeway Sensors, Cirdan Imaging, Digital Catapult NI, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and Yelo.

The funding award, which was made after a highly competitive, UK-wide process, will further consolidate the region’s position as a global leader for excellence in nanotechnologies, and provide a lasting economic impact.  

The UKRI investment will help the consortium scale up capacity in device manufacturing, and underpin and develop hundreds of jobs across the sector. The total project value, including leveraged funding from other sources, is £63.9m.

Smart Nano NI’s Dr Mark Gubbins said of the investment: “We can now advance Northern Ireland’s niche capability around smart nano manufacturing and world-leading knowledge in photonics to create a self-sustaining local industry. It allows us to capitalise on the combined expertise of our companies and the availability of trained researchers and resources across our academic institutions”.

North West firm E&I Engineering will recruit 100 new staff in the next year after its acquisition by the US-based infrastructure solutions and services company Vertiv.

The electrical switchgear manufacturer has plants across Derry and Donegal and employs more than 2,100 people worldwide.

With all current roles to be safeguarded in the takeover, E&I says it will recruiting around 100 new staff across its three locations in the North West in the next year.

Ohio-headquartered Vertiv offers power, cooling and IT infrastructure solutions and services to customers in the data centre, communications, commercial and industrial markets. It has a workforce of over 20,000 across more than 130 countries.

E&I Engineering founder and chief executive, Philip O’Doherty, said: “We are excited to join the Vertiv team and continue to grow our business through Vertiv’s global reach, strong channel presence and great customer positioning in critical digital infrastructures.”

£42.4 m has been awarded to Smart Nano NI – a Northern Ireland nano technology consortium to develop new technology for medical devices, communication and data storage. 

 The funding, which has been awarded by the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Strength in Places Fund presents a game-changing opportunity for Northern Ireland’s nano technology and manufacturing sector and launches the necessary support to scale up capacity in device manufacturing, underpin and develop hundreds of jobs across the sector. The total project value, including leveraged funding from other sources is £63.9m.  

   Smart Nano NI is led by data company Seagate Technology in collaboration with Analytics Engines, Causeway Sensors, Cirdan Imaging, Digital Catapult NI, North West Regional College, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and Yelo (the “Consortium”). The eight partners form a corridor of expertise from Derry~Londonderry to Belfast.  

  The funding award was made after a highly competitive process with projects from across the UK. It will further consolidate Northern Ireland’s position as a global leader for excellence in the field of nano technologies as well as delivering a significant and lasting impact on our local economy.  

  This is a once in a generation opportunity for Northern Ireland. The Consortium will accelerate the work of developing transformative advanced prototyping and smart manufacturing methods. This will allow for the delivery of new technologies as researchers and industry partners work together to develop new sensors for healthcare and optical communications leveraging the vast wealth of Northern Ireland’s research and industry knowledge. The Consortium will build capacity and new prototypes in the spheres of medical devices, communication, and data storage.   

  Northern Ireland has a unique cluster of expertise in this globally expanding field. The collaboration between all the members located along the Derry Londonderry / Belfast corridor will enable the establishment of a Centre of Excellence. This will enable advances in the Life and Health Sciences as well as exploiting the potential of photonics and nanotech in other high-growth sectors through knowledge transfer.  

  Smart Nano NI’s Dr Mark Gubbins said: “We are delighted and honoured to secure this investment which will deliver significant benefits for the economic growth of the region and the “corridor” of businesses from Belfast to Derry~Londonderry ensuring a levelling up of shared opportunities. We can now advance Northern Ireland’s niche capability around smart nano manufacturing and world-leading knowledge in photonics to create a self-sustaining local industry. It allows us to capitalise on the combined expertise of our companies and the availability of trained researchers and resources across our academic institutions”.   

  Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “I wish to congratulate and acknowledge the outstanding team behind this achievement. Securing this funding through UKRI Strength in Places is a major boost for our economy and our post Covid recovery journey and is a testament to the power of collaboration and the calibre of Northern Ireland companies. It will create new commercial opportunities, will drive economic growth and help tackle productivity challenges, and invigorate our manufacturing sector.” 

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Ulster University has landed a place in the top 50 universities for the first time in the Complete University Guide (CUG) 2022 League Table’s 15-year history.

After a third successive rise in these rankings, the university has risen 16 places from 60th (2021) to 44th (2022) out of 130 UK universities. This is the highest rank the University has achieved in the Guide’s 15-year history.

In allocated scores, Ulster University was ranked 13th for research intensity with a huge 84% and 73% for research quality.

Ulster University was given special recognition from CUG for a significant upward shift in the top 50 – climbing 16 places into 44th position. Along with one other UK university, Ulster University has achieved the biggest leap among those now ranked in the top 50, in this year’s league tables.

Professor Paul Seawright, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Ulster University commented: “The University’s significant uplift in these rankings reflects our continuous focus on the quality and impact of our teaching and research, across our unique campuses. The significant investment in the landmark Belfast campus, due to open from September, which will provide a progressive student experience in a state-of-the art city centre campus; the establishment of the School of Medicine at Magee which will produce 70 doctors per year to address sectoral workforce challenges; and over recent years the University has invested £27 million in facilities on Coleraine Campus including a £5m sports centre and a £6.5m media centre.

Ulster University – Magee campus. (Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)

Two future doctors at the new School of Medicine at Magee will have their degree costs covered by a construction and property development company.

Heron Bros has pledged to provide two local students with full scholarships for the entirety of their four-year degree programme at the school, which is due to open in August.

NI students applying for the Graduate Entry Medicine programme are eligible to apply for the scholarships where they meet widening access and participation criteria. Applications will open on 5th July and close two weeks later, on 16th July, for students starting the Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery programme this August.

Mr Damien O’Callaghan, Group Managing Director for Heron Bros Ltd said:

“Heron Bros are honoured to partner with Ulster University’s School of Medicine at the Magee Campus. In funding Scholarships to students, Heron Bros will build a better future for the local community, support upskilling of local talented people and provide health benefits for all of us. Heron Bros have been involved in various health, education and third sector education construction projects over the years and the Scholarships truly showcases our business values of passion, forward-thinking and relationships. As we progress from the Covid pandemic Heron Bros Medicine Scholarships will support our future Medicine Students provide a vital and enduring service in our community.”

The Foundation Dean of the School of Medicine, Professor Louise Dubras, has welcomed the scholarship announcement for prospective students:

“Ulster University and Heron Bros have enjoyed a longstanding partnership which has seen many of our students work with the team on a variety of Apprenticeship, Placement and Graduate programmes, enriching their learning experience and increasing employability. We are very proud to continue to strengthen this partnership through this scholarship announcement and we are delighted that Heron Bros will support two of our students through the brand new Graduate Entry Medicine programme, starting in August 2021.”

Louise added: “This presents opportunities for those who may face barriers to developing their vocation for a career in medicine – thanks to these scholarships they can now access and achieve the qualifications needed to become a doctor, joining the ambitious, capable healthcare hub here in the North West in four years’ time.”