As Ulster University invites graduates to apply to its new four-year medicine degree, two doctors who worked in different careers tell Lisa Smyth about finally fulfilling their dream.
Professor Nigel Hart is a GP and associate director for general practice and primary care at the Centre for Medical Education at Queen's University Belfast. He lives in south Belfast with his wife, Caroline, and the couple have three children.
Growing up, Prof Hart had no aspirations to become a doctor. Instead, he applied to QUB to study computer science and subsequently embarked upon a successful career as a systems analyst. The job took him all over the world, from Japan to America, and he was challenged and fulfilled by the role.
However, at the age of 28, he was overcome by an overwhelming desire to follow an entirely different professional path.
Fast forward almost three decades and he works as a GP while also helping to steer future generations of doctors as they carve out their own careers.
"Becoming a doctor wasn't on my agenda at all, I was working in the clinical manufacturing industry and I came into contact with a lot of really interesting people," he explains.
"I don't look back with any negative feelings towards it, but something happened and I ended up going in a different direction. I suppose I wanted to become more engaged with people.
"When you dig down into it, it was an interest in helping people. I will never forget the moment I was driving along the Sydenham bypass one day and this idea popped into my head that maybe I should think about becoming a doctor. I actually laughed out loud at how preposterous the idea seemed."
While his immediate reaction was to brush off the notion, a seed had been planted in his mind and he spent months looking into the possibility.
"In those days, it was unusual for a person to do medicine as a second degree - it is much more common now," he says.
"Medical students have to cope with a lot that is thrown at them and to do it as a mature student, it's very difficult without incredible support from your family.
"I was going to undertake A-levels at night class while I was working - and none of it would have been possible without my incredible wife. She tells me that I married her and then announced that I wanted to study medicine, but she has always been very supportive."
So, how difficult was the decision to walk away from a successful career and guaranteed monthly income, and how did he find returning to education after such a long break?
"I did spend a long time researching before I made the decision and I was still working while I was doing my A-levels," he continues.
"I absolutely loved studying for them, and I can remember being overjoyed when I got my results."
Returning to university wasn't without its challenges, of course ... not least because Prof Hart became a dad while he was at medical school.
"There were difficult times, but overall it was fine, although I'm sure my wife might say something different," he says.
Yet, despite being at a very different stage in his life compared to the majority of his fellow students, he made lifelong friends while at university.
"I was 10 years older than the other students, but I never really felt like it and I very quickly became peers with them," he recalls.
"That's one of the things about medicine, you spend five years with the other people on your course and you get to know them all.
"I made some friends for life and they still talk about the bleeper I carried around with me when my wife was expecting our children.
"I always tell the first-year students to look very carefully at the people they're sitting next to on the first day because they're going to be close friends for life.
"I do think being older made it easier when it came to things like paediatrics and examining children because I already had that skill set as I was a dad.
"I had acquired a number of life skills that made certain aspects of engaging with the public, with the patients, a bit easier because I wasn't as self-conscious, although even though I graduated when I was 33, people still told me I was too young to be a doctor.
"The things I learned in IT are still impacting on how I approach my job as a clinician and as an educator.
"It's 20 years since I did my first shift, but I do remember that feeling of appreciation but also responsibility.
"There's a certain pride in being regarded as a suitable person with adequate experience to be trusted by the public to care for them. There's a real sense of honour and privilege.
"This all came about because of giving up my career and relying on my poor wife and the rest of my family to support me.
"Studying medicine as a second degree does put limitations on your personal life and your social life but there is a sense of wanting to care for people and hopefully anyone who studies medicine gets a sense of value from what they're doing.
"I've never really looked back, it has worked out to be an incredibly rewarding career that is something I really value."
Dr Trevor Killeen is in his final year training as a GP. However, at 46 years old, he isn't a fresh-faced junior doctor but is instead someone who brings a wealth of life experience to the role.
Growing up in Co Wicklow, he had a burning ambition to become a doctor but the path to realising his childhood dream has been far from smooth. In fact, he includes chef, events manager and even professional make-up artist on his curriculum vitae.
"I've always wanted to do medicine," he says. "The earliest my mum would recall me talking about it was when I was 10 or 11, but I got very distracted along the way.
"I didn't do well enough in my Leaving Cert exams to get into medicine - I was always good at sciences but English and Irish were compulsory and I wasn't good enough at languages.
"I think I went through the whole clearing process in one day, the telephone interview and everything, and came home and told my parents I was going to study nutrition and dietetics."
So, before his 18th birthday, Trevor had moved to London and immersed himself fully in university life, including taking up a part-time job to help make ends meet.
"I went along to a temp agency and got a job as a busboy in a hotel but quite quickly I went and spoke to the chef in the kitchen," he continues.
"From the age of about 15 I worked in a restaurant called the Wicklow Arms which made everything from scratch. It was the kind of place where people would wait for two hours for a table at the weekend and I told the chef at the hotel in London about my experience.
"He said I probably had more experience than most of the people working in the kitchen, so he gave me a job."
Trevor completed his first year at university but ultimately decided to take a full-time job at the hotel over completing his degree.
"Looking back, I enjoyed the course, but I think living in London, it was my first taste of freedom, I turned 18 three weeks after moving over there," he says. "Accommodation in Marble Arch came with the job and there were lots of positives for an 18-year-old."
Trevor, who now lives in east Belfast, worked his way up through the ranks and by the time he left the hotel he was the events and conference operation manager.
His departure from the company came in 1999 when his uncle bought a hotel and Trevor returned home to help him.
However, the draw to study a clinical subject remained and he signed up to do a course in holistic therapies.
He was subsequently offered a job to teach and then the opportunity arose to train to become a make-up artist.
"I had done quite a bit of work in amateur theatre on the production side of things and when the make-up artistry teacher left, they asked if I wanted to train up," he says.
"So, I taught holistic therapy and make-up artistry until 2008 and loved it. I got a job working with Daniel Sandler (the internationally renowned make-up artist) and we did two shows at London Fashion Week and the Conde Nast bride show.
"We also looked after the girlfriends and wives at the K Club at the Ryder Cup in 2006 which was quite fun."
Trevor also set up a successful business doing bridal make-up. As much as he enjoyed his work, however, the lure of medicine was too strong and when he discovered an access course that would enable him to apply to a medical degree, he jumped at the chance.
"It was a no-brainer for me," he says.
He secured a place on a course in King's Lynn, Norfolk, with a view to studying medicine at university in East Anglia.
"It seems very cliched, but I do like helping people and I think that's why medicine appeals to me," he says.
"It was quite a big occasion when I graduated. I was the first doctor in the extended family and I had the most people there at the ceremony.
"I actually lost my first patient quite early on. It was during one of my first night shifts and I know that we did everything we could for her and you have to take that away.
"You're going to have patients who pass away, that does go with the territory, and that's why I've taken an interest in palliative care.
"The patient experience is very important to me. I've always worked in customer service and I've brought that with me, so whether it is doing CPR or end of life care, or just holding the hand of an 89-year-old patient who is feeling down and needs you to listen to them, that's what I want to do. I don't regret anything that I've done but I do wish I had become a doctor sooner."
The new four-year medicine degree course is based at Ulster University's Magee campus and the closing date for next year's August entry is March 31, 2021. Entry requirements include a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, the GAMSAT entrance exam and multiple mini interview assessments. For information, find Graduate Entry Medicine at www.ulster.ac.uk