Belfast Telegraph

Why are these SWOTs strutting their stuff on fashion catwalk?

Tonight medical students at Queen’s University, Belfast, will be donning the hottest new styles to raise money for hospitals in the developing world. Kerry McKittrick reports

Every year, the Whitla Hall in Queen's University, Belfast plays host to a hugely popular fashion show. More than 170 models wearing some of Northern Ireland and the UK's finest best-known labels take to the catwalk.

But this is not a traditional fashion event. The participants are not even fashion students. It is the SWOT (Students Working Overseas Trust) fashion show, organised by and starring Queen's University medical students as part of a year-long campaign to raise funds and medical supplies for the Third World.

Every year the students raise funds for hospitals and clinics in Third World countries. Fourth year medical students then spend six weeks of the summer on placement in these hospitals.

Here, they gain valuable experience working in basic conditions. But most importantly, they get to see the proceeds from SWOT in action — either as funds or supplies.

Other fundraising events throughout the year include blood pressure clinics at shopping centres, themed nights out and even carol singing. Last year's fashion show raised more that £30,000. Previously, TV presenter Christine Bleakley, and Radio One's Dr Mark Hamilton have hosted the event. This year it’s the turn of Cool FM’s Gareth Stewart and Kirstie McMurray.

“I’m really excited about the show, particularly as it’s for such a good cause”, says Gareth. “When I was first approached, I didn’t quite know what the show was about. Then I did some research and realised just how big it is. It’s going to be a fantastic night.”

Local shops, such as Cruise and Clockwork Orange, will feature with more clothes and styling provided by House Of Fraser. Hair will be sculpted by Peter Mark and Jason Shankey and local artist, Ciara Daly, will be doing the make-up. All of these businesses are providing their services and time free.

We talk to five of tomorrow's doctors, who are taking to the catwalk for a good cause.

Michaela O’Neill

The 23-year-old is one of the SWOT fashion show co-ordinators. She's a medical student from Armagh. She says:

At last year's SWOT fashion show I helped out backstage. It was crazy but I really enjoyed myself. I've always thought that SWOT was a worthwhile cause because every penny that is raised goes to the hospitals instead of going on administration costs and things like that.

There are two co-ordinators for the fashion show but even then it's been a massive task. We've been planning and rehearsing two nights a week since October.

My mobile phone just hasn't stopped ringing since then — I would say that I spend three hours on the fashion show every day.

I can't believe how generous people have been — House of Fraser are lending us clothes and their personal shoppers are even doing the styling so it's been fantastic. Being in the show is a rite of passage for medical students.

Even those who can't commit to being in it will show their support by raising awareness and attending.

I'm going to do my placement in Vietnam in July and I know it's going to be a different world over there.

I'll be working in surgery hopefully honing my skills.

I know the healthcare system is not in good shape over there so I don't really know what to expect. I got into medicine because my granny took ill and was hospitalised around the time I was doing my GCSEs.

I saw the work the people in the hospital did and decided that was the kind of thing I wanted to do. I originally thought about being a nurse until I realised I could get the grades for medicine. I think I will probably specialise in gynaecology.”

Emma Sproule

The 21-year-old is a fourth year medical student from Bangor and the SWOT secretary. She says:

I always wanted to be a doctor the whole way through school but it was my lower sixth work experience at the Mater Hospital in Belfast that cemented it. I got to see what medicine was like close up and I even watched a Caesarian section being done which was amazing.

I loved being at the Mater and I'm very lucky because I'm doing a placement there at the moment.

I haven't quite decided what I want to specialise in. I loved doing my accident and emergency and paediatrics placements so it will probably be one of those two.

I got involved with SWOT in my third year at Queen's. They were looking for people to join the committee of SWOT and I loved the idea of being involved with a charity that focused on the medical faculty.

I have always thought that SWOT was a really good cause and I'm very proud to be part of it. Everyone studying medicine does a six-week placement during the summer — they can go abroad or stay here.

Many of the students will go to places like America or Australia but most of us involved with SWOT will go to Third World countries and bring out some of the proceeds we've raised throughout the year — either as funds or much-needed supplies for the hospitals.

I'm due to go to Uganda in July. I've never been to Africa before and I'm really looking forward to it.

I'll get to see first hand how medicine is practised in a Third World country. I'll also be able to report back on how the funds we've raised go to help other people.”

Gilbert Rice

The 22-year-old is a fourth year medical student from Armagh and is the SWOT vice president. He says:

The social side of medicine has always motivated me and I like being involved in charities. Before I came to Queen's, I volunteered with School Aid Romania.

I'm also vice president of the university's St Vincent De Paul society.

I jumped at the chance to join SWOT and I have a huge amount of gratitude for the people who help by either |giving money or their time to raise funds.

The fashion show is one of the highlights of our year at university.

It's quite a big deal, given that something like 160 people from the year are taking part in it. I'm actually really looking forward to the whole thing.

In the summer, I'll being going out to Fiji. It sounds like it will be paradise, but actually, I'll be working on a boat that brings people from the poorer islands to a big hospital.

This isn't something I'm doing for my CV, it's just a way I can help people who are less fortunate that I am.

Those islanders are very short of money and I'll see a lot of people with HIV and AIDS, who can't afford the medication needed for them.

I've wanted to become a doctor ever since I was a child.

There isn't a family connection, but I always remember the doctor as being the person in the community who would make people feel better. I've always been interested in doing that.

Sinead McNally

The 22-year-old comes from Lurgan. She's a fourth year medical student and one of the fashion show co-ordinators. She says:

I love SWOT because it's the medical students own charity. I'm heading off to Tanzania this summer and I'm really looking forward to seeing exactly how we're helping people in other countries. When on placement everyone takes lots of photos so we can really see how the work we do during the year benefits each hospital differently.

Everyone in the year goes on a placement in the summer but it's only those who are involved in SWOT who go to hospitals in deprived countries. Even then not everyone in SWOT will go to a deprived country so we try to divide the funds raised on basis of need.

It operates on a points system and if you're going somewhere such as the US then you can donate your points to someone like me going to Tanzania. The idea is that the places with the most need get the most help.

In Tanzania things are going to be very basic. I think it's going to be a brilliant experience though albeit a bit of a shock for me.

I want to focus on surgery so I'll get to increase my skills. There won't be a lot of equipment there and there will be a high number of HIV cases — much higher than over here.

I was given the option to be one of the show co-ordinators and, since I've been involved with every single one of the fashion shows while I've been at Queen's, of course I was going to do it. It's been a lot of hard work — two hour rehearsals twice a week — and the phones and emails have been non-stop.

It really pulls people together though. In medicine we all sort of grow up together as the course goes on so we do tend to be quite a close-knit group.

The fashion show is really the highlight of the year for everyone.”

Emma O’Kane

The 22-year-old from Dungiven is a fourth year medical student and president of SWOT. She says:

I joined SWOT because it's only run by medical students. I was humbled to see the work that previous years did so I jumped at the chance to join the committee.

It is a lot of hard work to fit in around your degree but it's also a lot of fun. Through SWOT I've really learned how important fundraising is. People have been so generous and I don't just mean students and individuals.

We have been stunned at just how much businesses and organisations have given, particularly given how hard things are in the economy at the moment.

I have always been interested in the social and caring aspects of medicine.

My grandmother was a nurse, my sister's a nurse and my other sister is a dentist so it's fair to say the healthcare industry runs in the family.

I'll be going out to Tanzania next summer for my placement and I am really looking forward to getting stuck in.

These kinds of |placements are really important because it gives us a chance to see how countries that don't have a lot of resources practise medicine.

We will get to use basic clinical skills in different ways out there.

I imagine I'll come back really appreciating the system that we have here.

Taking part in the fashion show I’m nervous because we're only students, not models, and we've never done it before.

Co-ordinators have everything organised as we've been working for this since October. I actually think it's a bit of a |confidence booster and after all, it's for a very worthwhile cause.”

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