Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to pursue your area of study?

My name is Emma and I’m a 29-year-old 3rd-year medical student at Deakin University. I have always wanted to be a doctor, I remember telling my mum when I was 4 that I was going to be a doctor, although nobody really expected it to ever become a reality. I completed high school and then a biomedical science degree prior to medicine. Unfortunately my plan to get into medical school after Biomed really didn’t turn out as I had hoped.

I ended up taking 7 years applying to medical school before being finally accepted and sat the dreaded GAMSAT at least 12 times!
Despite years of rejection trying to get into medical school, and being surrounded by people telling me I needed to move on and do something else, I never considered doing anything else. I was happily pursuing other goals in the meantime – but all things that would eventually make me a better doctor in the long run.

I think it is incredibly important when going into a career in healthcare is to be extremely clear about your WHY. This will help you get through any setbacks into reaching your goals and help you on the hardest of days that are bound to pop up throughout our careers. For me, my WHY comes from personal experiences. When I was younger I suffered from anorexia nervosa. When I finally had the courage to reach out to a doctor for help, he told me I was being a silly girl and to eat a sandwich and I would feel better. At the time this really shattered my faith in the medical system and made me not want to seek help again.

For me, it is incredibly important to become the type of person I needed when I was younger. I want to become the kind of doctor I needed to help others in my community. I have been a volunteer at Eating Disorders Victoria for 7 years working on the helpline (the hub), running support groups and now visiting inpatient programs and sharing my recovery story to inspire hope that recovery is so possible and worth it – these experiences continue to reinforce in me that helping people in the health field is all I want to do with my life.

I push forward because I know that with my particular experiences and demeanour, one day I will be the person my future patient needs to help them get better and help set them up to thrive in life – so I continue on this journey for them.

I think most of us are familiar with doctors. The application process is one of the most difficult processes in the world, universally. The teaching and fire hydrant of teaching and content is intense. And the expectations and responsibility are ginormous. I think we all know one or two really terrible doctors as well.

I think being in medical school at this time point is amazing because there have been so many positive improvements to medical education – adding more public health, more ethics and more nutrition etc. rather than just science. We are in a generation of future doctors who will fight for justice, advocate strongly for our patients, work as part of a varied team of healthcare specialists as equals and relate to our patients on deeper more well-rounded levels than our predecessors.
Its an exciting time to be in medicine – even despite the challenges of the current pandemic.

What have been some classes you have taken at university and what ones have been your favourite and why?

In medical school, we don’t have ‘classes’. We have more of a year-long continuous program with intertwining ‘themes’. One of our themes is the classic medical content including all of the science and pathology of disease. Another theme is our patient communication where we learn to connect with our patients on more personable levels to provide better healthcare than ever before.

Another theme see’s us diving into the world of public health, allowing us to see the bigger picture not only one person addressed purely by their symptoms, but what has lead them to this point in their lives and what could have been put in place to prevent this e.g. obesity prevention. Lastly, we have a theme for ethics which delves into bullying culture in our hospitals, treating mature minors, doctor-patient confidentiality etc.
I think this is an incredible program and we are producing a really amazing next generation of doctors!

We also split our learning into preclinical and clinical – so our first two years are very similar to a science degree, lots of on-campus lectures, tutes, pracs and PBLs (problem bases learning). Then our final two years are spent entirely within the hospital rotating through different specialities and being more hands-on and part of the treating team.

What is a typical week like?

I am in 3rd year this year and we have full-time placement all day 5 days a week. Depending on the rotation sometimes we are also expected to do night shifts and weekends as well. We basically have a full-time job doing our placements in the hospital, while also juggling all of our tutorials assignments, self-study, research project etc.

It is a really packed year and coming to the end of it we are all feeling pretty burnt out coming up to our exams that are designed to test us on the past 3 years of medical school. But its also been the year we finally feel like, our dreams are coming true, we really are going to be doctors soon!
Where have you had some of your placements, which were your favourites and why? What types of patients did you see?
In our first preclinical years, we have day-long placements mainly with allied health which is wonderful to gain a broader appreciation of how to best help and refer our future patients.

In our last two clinical years, we do 7-14 week rotations through different specialities such as general medicine, women’s, children’s, surgery, general practice, mental health and geriatrics where we live and breath the life of that speciality as a medical student. It has been the most incredible experience. We are truly so lucky to be in such a position to learn by doing and be invited into our patients care.
My favourite so far has definitely been women’s health. I cry at every single birth when they first hand the new bubba to the parents and suddenly a couple becomes a family. Such a magical moment to be part of.

What are some interesting patients, presentations, clinical experiences you have had that really stuck with you / and why?

On our first day of our endocrine rotation as part of a general medicine rotation, we were told by the doctor teaching us that he hadn’t seen a case of pheochromocytoma in his 10 years in the hospital as it is extremely rare – and that was our first ever endocrine patient! We have met so many strong people going through so much and having so much on their plates – it is truly humbling hearing the stories of our patients during some of their most vulnerable times in life. So many patients will stay with me for life. Their kind words. Their last words. Their reflections on life. Their strength and persistence. Their love and sacrifice for their loved ones.

What has surprised you the most about university / your area of study?

Unfortunately, how negative the culture can be. I was surprised about how much medicine is like highschool. There is, unfortunately, a bit of a bullying culture that we as a whole are moved to destroy and move past.
I have started a mentoring program called Med Mentors which aims to replace the current competitive and sabotaging culture with one that encourages collaboration and support from premed through medical school and beyond to help stamp out the bullying culture in our medical schools and hospitals!

What do you wish you knew before you started studying?

Even if you spend every waking moment of your life and sacrifice absolutely everything you have to study as much as you possibly can in medicine – you will never know it all. There is just too much. No matter how much you prepare there will still be poorly worded, or abstract, or questions you’ve just not prepared for on the exam.

SO don’t let study rule your life. Although studying to improve the lives of our patients is very important – this is a process that will be ongoing throughout our careers. We do not need to aim to be at a consultants level of knowledge in every speciality at the end of our medical degree.
We need to do the best we can while also looking after ourselves.

My favourite quote is: ‘you can not pour from an empty glass’ – meaning we can not look after our patients to the best of our ability if we are putting off looking after ourselves. Taking time off to recharge and be at our best allows us to care for others and perform at our best too!
So don’t spend 24/7 studying – you need rest, hobbies, family and friends time, health food and exercise – practice what you preach as well. If you would recommend seeing a psychologist to a friend or patient, know it’s okay for you to take that advice during your studies as well!

What tips do you have for fellow/future students struggling with assignments?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Whether it be your peers you’re scared to make a fool yourself in front of – trust me they are feeling exactly the same way! Or the staff – they are so keen to help you in any way possible if you just show that your willing to put in the effort and you’ve got some passion for the project! Go easy on yourself – many of us are perfectionist and never feel good enough.

In medical school the entire cohort is intelligent, driven, perfectionist, have amazing ideas and abilities – so to only get a passing grade among such a cohort is still a PHENOMENAL achievement that you should be proud of! Remember none of your future patients will ever ask you “what grade did you get on your second-year mid sem test?” Just do your best and be proud of the journey you are on!

What are some mistakes you or others may have made that you suggest others avoid during studies?

I burnt out so badly in the first year that during my exams I thought I was finished but I actually missed the last 3 pages!!!
I was CONVINCED I checked the exam back to front several times before leaving the exam and was sure I was finished – I was one of the first to finish and waited over 45 minutes for my friends to join me.

It wasn’t until 3 weeks later my friend asked me what I had answered on the last few questions that I realized I had never even seen them – I contacted staff and they told me the pages were in my exam book but I had not answered them. Luckily I had gotten all of the other questions right and passed anyway – but with one of the lowest scores in the cohort.

I was so scared I had just failed the first year from something so stupid that had never ever happened to me before – I had burned myself out so badly trying to study non-stop all year I was becoming less and less capable of not only the test but just life in general.
MAKE TIME FOR YOU – it will make you perform so much better than studying yourself into the ground – I PROMISE!!!

What have been your main challenges during your studies why?

For us, it has been COVID and the almost weekly changes to the access and expectations during our year of placement. Some doctors and departments wanted students while others did not. Guiding our way through this on an individual level was extremely challenging and each of us has unique experiences with our learning now which worries us going into exams.

Under normal circumstances most of the previous students say the one thing they wish they had overcome sooner was starting to go and talk to patients on the ward on their own earlier – they say this really help solidify conditions, management and treatment for exams when you have a face and story to recall instead of just words in a textbook! If our year had gone to plan this would have been my focus as well!

Which area/s would you like to work in or specialise in and why?

They say you shouldn’t get to attached to a speciality too early as you’re doing yourself a great disservice by not opening yourself up to something you were always meant to do that you may have never considered.
My current interests include women’s health, psychiatry and lifestyle medicine – I’m hoping to do something that combines all of them! But also open to something I have not yet considered inspiring me in the future as well!

How have you financially support yourself during your studies?

I have a job working in a pharmacy as well as Centrelink support. This has allowed me to pay for all of my living expenses such as rent, car payments, bills, clothing for placements, study resources as well as saving up for my wedding. Budgeting is important.
I like to think of this period in my life as less of an investment into my bank account and more of an investment in myself – my learning etc. that will eventually turn into an investment in my bank account.

It’s okay to live the ‘broke-ass-student-life’ for a few years and know that afterwards, your career will help you afford your house and holidays and the big things you are looking forward to. Be patient with yourself and know some of the sacrifices we go through financially now will all be worth it in the long run.

What would make your studies better?

Probably just not being in the middle of a global pandemic during our first year of clinical school and placements would have been WAY better – but we have learned how to be adaptable and use technology like no other generation of future doctors!

What advice would you give to future students thinking about studying and pursuing a career in your field?

Know your WHY. Make sure it is unique to you and is strong.
This will help you get through your medical school interviews and get you through this incredibly challenging career path.
Know that this is one of the most difficult things you will ever pursue – but its what makes it difficult, that makes it great!
And if it were easy, everyone would do it!

For other Medical Student and Doctor articles, go HERE

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