A doctor on the moon

A doctor on the moon

Students on their future plans

09-04-2024 · Interview

MAASTRICHT. Renate Huurman (25) dreams of becoming a doctor and going on a lunar mission. She’s curious to find out what space does to the human body. “A hell of a lot”, she suspects. Huurman is currently in her first year of studying Medicine at Maastricht University.

Going from a male-dominated to a female-dominated degree programme was quite a change for Renate Huurman. She wasn’t used to being surrounded by so many women. “Before this, I studied aeronautical engineering at Inholland University of Applied Sciences in Delft. Sometimes I was the only woman in the room. And when I was younger, I had only male friends. I used to think that women tended to talk behind people’s backs.” But her perspective has changed. “I’ve made female friends here in Maastricht – turns out it’s possible!”

Aeronautical engineering

At 25, she’s older than the typical first-year student. Her academic journey hasn’t been a straight line. Medicine was her first love; in high school, she was already interested in the workings of the human body, with biology being her favourite subject. But her grades didn’t reflect her enthusiasm. Her ADHD makes it hard for her to focus on things she doesn’t find interesting or challenging enough. “We only got to do the fun extra assignments after completing the boring standard ones. I never made it that far – I’d lose interest.”

She doubted she would make it through the selection process for a degree in medicine. After looking into Leiden University, which was closest to her hometown of Oegstgeest, she gave up on her dream. But what degree should she do instead? Her older brothers were studying computer science and engineering at Delft University of Technology. Perhaps that was something for her. “But when I attended the open day, it didn’t appeal to me at all. Aeronautical engineering did catch my attention.” She applied for the programme.

Sadly, she didn’t get accepted. Unsure of her next move, she decided to take a gap year, travelling to Australia, Thailand and Indonesia at the young age of 19. “Things were tough at home. My parents were getting divorced. I thought, ‘I’m managing fine on my own here, so why not on the other side of the world?’” Back from her travels, Huurman discovered that universities of applied sciences also offer aeronautical engineering programmes. She realised she felt much more drawn to the idea of a less theoretical and more practical approach.

Red Cross

But her passion for medicine never left her. During student orientation week, she stumbled upon an interesting part-time job. “I had a cut on my ankle, so I had to visit the Red Cross a few times. The first time I went, I thought, ‘These people are so nice! Their work is so interesting!’” She signed up and attended various training courses. “A specialist once came in to give a presentation, showing us an X-ray. Way too advanced for first aid training, but I found it fascinating.”


In the summer between her third and fourth years of study, Huurman found herself in a somewhat unusual summer holiday spot: Iceland. She was there to participate in a simulation project by ICEE.Space, a space research start-up. “The company is run by a friend of mine, who thought the project would be right up my alley.” During the mission, “analogue astronauts” simulated living on the moon by spending a week in a lava tube in Iceland, where the terrain closely resembles the lunar surface. Huurman herself stayed outside the tube, serving as a rescue coordinator for medical emergencies. She also provided first aid training, like at the Red Cross. Didn’t she want to be inside the lava tube? “It would’ve required too much preparation and money, about 2000 euros.” Part 2 of the project, scheduled for next summer, will involve a two-week stay inside the tube. This time, Huurman has signed up as an analogue astronaut. “I want to see if I can handle the psychological impact of spending two weeks without natural light, in a confined space with a small group of people.” She isn’t deterred by the fact that the costs have since risen to 3000 euros. “That’s a problem for future me.” She has already passed the first stage of the selection process.

And she also made it through another selection process: Huurman is currently three quarters through her first year of studying medicine. In Maastricht, not Leiden. “I discovered that UM’s selection process suited me better. It emphasises skills over knowledge.” She’s doing well in her studies. “When I was studying aeronautical engineering, I sometimes had to take Ritalin for exams. Here, I don’t need medication to stay focused. I find everything super interesting.”


Back to the lunar mission. How does she plan to make her dream come true? While there’s no such thing as a specialisation in space medicine, she could apply for an internship with the European Space Agency (ESA) Space Medicine Team. If that doesn’t pan out, plan B is to specialise in emergency medicine. For now, she is busy keeping several balls in the air – her studies, her Red Cross work, her part-time job at the satellite company ISISpace and her upcoming role as a kidney transplant technician at MUMC+.

Wouldn’t she like to go to Mars? It’s nice and far away. And she managed just fine on her own when she was 19, didn’t she? The question is meant as a joke, but Huurman replies earnestly: “In the past, I would’ve said yes. But I’ve worked hard on myself, and I’ve come to better appreciate my relationships with the people around me. So now, I’d say no.”

Photo: Ellen Oosterhof

Categories: news_top, People
Tags: medicine,aeronautical engineering,delft,moon,red cross,iceland,astronaut

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