Newly crowned junior doctor Jennifer Byrne discusses juggling her tiara and her stethoscope in the coming year.The first Offaly Rose to win the title of the Rose of Tralee chats with Rachel Cunningham about busy schedules, staying to work in Ireland in a climate of emigration, her aims for the year ahead, and what it’s like to be a young woman in medicine.
How did you come to be the Offaly Rose?
The Rose of Tralee was always something that I had thought about doing and something that I really wanted to do. My mum was the one who actually saw an advertisement in the paper and suggested that I send in an application.
The Offaly Rose Centre are really on the ball- they messaged me the following day and told me that they were holding an information evening, where I met their committee and last year’s Offaly Rose, Emma Kirwan.
They gave me an insight into what it was like and once I’d met some of the other girls, I knew that I’d really enjoy the experience.
It sounds like you had a lot on your plate already, are you still playing soccer?
“I am! I play with Galway WFC in the women’s national league and I actually went back to training last week.
A bit of a change from the ball gowns?
A different ball altogether!
An excited Jennifer on the arm of Rose of Tralee host, Dáithí Ó Sé.
How will you juggle your medical responsibilities as a junior doctor with your new role?
I don’t intend to give up medicine completely for the year by any means, I’m currently working in the Emergency Department and then I have a Pscychiatry rotation for four months.
I will probably take some time out to travel as the Rose of Tralee after this rotation, I’ve actually been working with the hospital to try to figure out a balance between work and when I will be needing time off, as there are different trips in the pipeline to India and to Belarus.
Obviously medicine requires a big commitment but in general I’ve found that people have been very understanding and helpful to me, so I’d love to keep working as much as I possibly can anyway.
I met Maria Walsh, the former Rose of Tralee, and she gave me some tips and insight into the year ahead. She didn’t take the year off work either and was able to balance both.
To be honest, even though I have just been on a week of nights, it was really nice to come back to work and to have that bit of normality. The other Roses had said to me that it’s good to have that anchor there that you are able to come back to.
What are your thoughts on the popular trend for young doctors to qualify and then travel abroad to work?
Such a large proportion of my class has gone abroad, I’d say at least half of my friends have, and both of my housemates have moved to Australia.
But there are also a good lot of us who have stayed in Ireland. I’m currently undergoing the four-year GP training scheme and I have my two GP placements lined up already. One will be a year in a general practice in Turloughmore for a year and the second one will be in Clonbur, both in Galway. Through these I’ll get to experience a primary care centre that is quite urban, and a more rural general practice, so I’m looking forward to both.
I’d like to work abroad at some point in the future but I’d rather go when I have my full qualification and know exactly what I want to do. For the time being, I love living in Galway, although I am intrigued to try out living in Dublin for a while.
Do you think being a doctor will influence your attitude as you fulfil your Rose duties and travel as an ambassador?
Yeah, I definitely do. I have a bit of experience on the travelling side as I volunteered in Zambia and did an elective there, which I really enjoyed. I’d love to be able to use my medicine to help in such places as India and Belarus.
I also had a great time volunteering in Barretstown and I hope to go back there to help them out.
This year, I’d very much like to get behind healthy life choices; women in sport is another thing I’m passionate about promoting. I’d like to see more people playing sport, especially young women, who often quit. As part of tackling this issue, I’d like to broaden the focus of sport so that it’s not just on the elite athlete but also emphasises the importance of participation.
This week I’ve been looking at my diary and at various ideas to make final decisions on where I would particularly like to help out, in addition to the more concrete functions and trips that have always been connected with the Rose of Tralee.
At the end of the day, my aim is to remain open-minded and to try to help out as many people as I can, to be the best ambassador that I can be, and to promote Irish heritage and culture internationally.
As a young woman at the start of your career, have you found that your gender is a factor in medicine?
To be honest, so far I feel that we have all been given equal opportunities. We’ve gone through medical school, we’ve earned our degrees and we’ve done our intern year. After that, it’s pretty much up to you what you want to do.
Maybe being a woman means that you might make future decisions with certain life choices in mind but each to their own in that respect, it’s hard to know at this stage.
At the moment the possibilities seem endless, whether you want to specialise in a particular area of medicine, or travel abroad. I feel like a lot of my female friends have done really well and, as far as I can see, we’ve been on equal footing with our male counterparts.