Almost 200 UCC medical graduates are set to head "directly into the trenches" in the battle against Covid-19, as they graduated in an unconventional ceremony today.
It was an unprecedented event, which saw a total of 197 graduates conferred - the first in UCC’s 175-year history to be conducted entirely online.
Taoiseach Leo Vardakar, one of the keynote speakers at the graduation, said that for the first time in Ireland, every graduate of medicine will be offered an internship within the health system as part of the effort to battle the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Varadkar made the pledge as he addressed the University College Cork Medicine graduates of 2020 - whose exams and graduation were brought forward to get more doctors into the field amid the pandemic.
"I know we're living in very strange times as a pandemic affects the world," Mr Varadkar said in a pre-recorded message.
"You're graduating early, and you're doing so without being able to celebrate with your friends and your families as I know you'd like to.
"But there will be a time for that in the months ahead, when we develop new treatments, a new vaccine, a much better and more effective testing and contact tracing regime.
"In the meantime, we need you to graduate early and to start work as interns already, because there's so much work to be done.
"I know you will be starting in posts in the middle of May, in hospitals, and also some of you in community settings, and for the first time ever, we are providing for over 1,000 internships for medical graduates in Ireland.
"That pretty much means that everyone graduating this year will be offered an internship," he said.
Across the city and county, graduates, their friends and relatives, tuned in online to watch the unique conferring.
For Robert Shannon, son of Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon, the occasion was indeed a "pretty bizarre" affair.
He watched the proceedings along with his housemate, Kathryn Lesko, who also conferred today.
Dr Shannon, who also has a BSc in Neuroscience from UCC and an MSc in Immunology and Global Health from Maynooth University, said it was a graduation like no other.
"It was a bit of a change from the usual pageantry of conferrings," he laughed.
"It was pretty bizarre alright and a small bit of an anticlimax after all the work but I think it's a testament to the class group that almost 200 of us made it out the other side when the exams were brought forward," he said.
The graduates are set to begin their posts from May 25, joining the frontline in the battle against Covid-19.
Dr Shannon says he is used to working in hospital environments but the daunting prospect is entering into his preferred area, infectious diseases - heading "directly into the trenches".
Also graduating today was Kate Henry from Ballincollig, who received a first-class honours degree in Medicine.
Dr Henry is a third-generation UCC medical graduate, who will be starting work as an intern in the Southern Intern Training Network (UCC) in May.
Speaking at the conferrings today, UCC President Patrick O'Shea commended the resilience of the graduates.
"Your resilience and adaptability in responding to Covid-19 is genuinely remarkable and has no doubt prepared you for the challenges and rewards of the career path you have chosen.
"I wish you every success in your careers. We are all deeply proud of your accomplishments.
"What you have achieved in 2020, and indeed this event itself will constitute an essential chapter in the history of your University, your Alma Mater, University College Cork," he said.