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. 

https://www.ulster.ac.uk/faculties/life-and-health-sciences/medicine

Congratulations have poured in for “sensational” Eglinton sprinter Jason Smyth, who took home gold at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Smyth, 34, won the men’s 100m – T13 on day five of the games, in a time of 10.53 seconds.

This brings his total gold medal haul to six, having previously won golds for Ireland at the Beijing, London and Rio Paralympics.

Graham Warke paid tribute to “another sensational performance” by Smyth, who is visually impaired.

First Minister Paul Givan said: “It is once again my pleasure to be applauding an athlete who ranks among the best we have ever produced.”

The Carnival of Colours returned in September to brighten up Derry city centre with acrobatics, circus performers, graffiti art, live music and much more.

Check out the highlights:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p–gCDpsHWE

Derry’s Walled City Brewery has beat hundreds of other taprooms to be crowned the best in the UK.

The Ebrington Square business, which has created more than 200 beers and received multiple accolades since it opened in 2015, was named Taproom of the Year at the nationwide Pub and Bar Awards.

WCB fought off competition from an estimated 600 other UK taprooms to win the top prize, with organisers called it “a cracking operation”.

The brewery, run by James and Louise Huey, is also planning a major expansion which will see it open a standalone Taproom and Experience Centre in 2022.

LegenDerry Food has given its seal of approval to 17 more eateries and local producers this year, bringing the total number of members to 70.

The network was established to celebrate high-quality produce and the food heritage of the city and region, from street food trucks and award-winning fine dining, to craft brewers and artisan producers.

Last year saw the development and launch of the LegenDerry brand, complete with a new website providing a central hub for accessing unique food, drink and taste experiences in Derry, Strabane and the surrounding area.

As a certified LegenDerry provider, businesses are showcased on the LegenDerry website and receive a suite of marketing material to signpost their venues or produce with the ‘LegenDerry – Great Place, Great Taste’ stamp of approval.

LegenDerry Food was the result of a Food and Drink Strategy launched in February 2019 by Derry City and Strabane District Council, as part of its wider plan to drive tourism and place the region on the map as Ireland’s top food location by 2025.

Selina Horshi, new Chair of the LegenDerry Food and Drink Network, said: “We are always happy to welcome new businesses onboard this exciting and innovative project and we look forward with anticipation to continued development in the weeks and months ahead.”

To find out more, visit www.legenderryfood.com

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.”

NI Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has announced the first two of four Assured Skills Collaborative Welding Academies at North West Regional College.

The first two Assured Skills Academies will see 24 successful applicants receive industry-standard welding training during a five-week course at the college’s Limavady and Springtown campuses, followed by two weeks of consolidation training at one of eight participating engineering companies.

Applicants who complete the Academy are guaranteed an interview for a welding position at one of the companies.

Sinead Hawkins, Business Skills Manager at NWRC, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for new fresh talent to progress in the industry by addressing the skills shortage. This will have a positive impact on the North West City Region’s local economy by feeding into local business anchors. We are committed to providing a skills guarantee for a post-Covid economy and future labour market.”

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.”

Version 1, the global IT services company currently recruiting remote working staff in the North West, has teamed up with mental health charity Aware NI to help ensure that its employees are fully supported during COVID-19.  

Invest Derry Strabane – which recently launched the Work Life Balanced campaign in association with Version 1, aimed at promoting the North West as a premium remote working destination – has welcomed the company’s initiatives which also include supporting the local community where their staff are based.

Version 1 took the decision to support a mental health charity when the consequences of the pandemic became overwhelmingly apparent during the last 18 months. People were forced to adapt to significant lifestyle changes, such as working from home and limiting social interactions. This in turn led to an increase in people experiencing isolation, anxiety, stress, and grief at losing loved ones.

Additionally, the tech firm’s commitment to supporting the local community is a critical element of its core values. Community First is Version 1’s main Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and is driven locally by the employees. The aim of this scheme is to improve employment opportunities in communities by supporting awareness, education, and access by leveraging technology and skills.

Community First is locally driven, enabling each Version 1 office to support causes they care about in their particular area. Some of the Community First initiatives include mentoring, helping local schools, grinds, tackling youth homelessness and community engagement.

Version 1 has also been officially recognised as a Healthy Place to Work. This was achieved by engaging employees in the completion of a robust survey covering four pillars – purpose, mental resilience, connection and physical health – which gathered insight into their experience of work. From the results, the company was able to put together a plan identifying paths to improvement, which subsequently led to the prestigious certification.

Lorna McAdoo, Director of Operations and Business Development NI at Version 1, said: “Our support for Aware NI stemmed from a wish to highlight the mental toll that the pandemic has been inflicting on so many people. The charity helps people realise that it is okay not to be okay, and this service has proved to be invaluable. We have also benefitted from online sessions held by Aware NI to help us all with various tools to use during this time to reinforce resilience and ensure we have been adapting well to the working from home model.

“We are also extremely proud of the visible efforts the company has made to reach out to local communities, and our Community First activities have enabled many people to access education and skills that drive employment opportunities.

“In addition, Version 1’s recognition as a Healthy Place to Work in Northern Ireland was a significant milestone for our company. Being spread across five countries presents its own set of challenges and it has been absolutely critical to ensure our employees are happy and healthy. We have been able to benchmark our progress through the data provided during the process and are now updating and creating initiatives and strategies across our operations to ensure our workforce is the healthiest it can be.”

Rosalind Young, Investment Manager at Derry City and Strabane District Council, said: “Version 1’s approach to dealing with the impact of COVID-19 is exemplary. The company’s commitment to providing mental help and support is evident through their partnership with Aware NI, and their track record of maintaining a community-focused approach is also welcomed as they expand their workforce in the North West.

“I would also like to congratulate Version 1 on their official recognition as a Healthy Place to Work. With the company bringing many highly skilled new jobs to the Derry City and Strabane District Council area, we are delighted that their staff will benefit from our Work Life Balanced campaign.”

For more information on the Version 1 roles available in the North West and to apply, visit the Invest DS jobs portal at www.investderrystrabane.com/worklife