Medical School in Australia Leads Canadian Student to Prestigious Residency Back Home
“Being able to study medicine abroad allowed me to experience medicine in a global context and afforded me the opportunity to enjoy a different culture for four years.”
Alison O’Hearn, a 29-year-old from Canada, stepped off a plane in Australia four years ago intent on earning a medical degree and fulfilling her childhood dream of being a doctor.
GlobaLinks Learning Abroad assists Canadian students applying to medical school in Australia. Learn more at http://www.degreesoverseas.com/popular-degrees/popular-degree-programs-in-australia/medical-degrees/
O’Hearn’s path to medical school in Australia began after her application to her home university’s medical school was deferred and she didn’t want to delay her plans.
“I was faced with the option of applying again the next year with an uncertain outcome or trying to apply further afield,” she says.
She gained new hope, however, when she read a newspaper article about the University of Wollongong’s new Graduate School of Medicine. She contacted a program advisor and was impressed by the quality of the curriculum and the friendliness of the staff. She decided to go forward with the program, facilitated by AustraLearn, a program of GlobaLinks Learning Abroad.
Now, four years later, she has returned to Canada to live out that dream of practicing rural medicine, a dream made true after receiving a residency match in British Columbia in aboriginal medicine.
“This was a very prestigious match as it is a specialist Aboriginal Family Medicine position at the University of British Columbia based in the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island,” said Lyndal Parker-Newlyn, Associate Professor of Medical Education at the University of Wollongong. “She will do most of her hospital rotations in Victoria itself and then much of the family medicine rotations in rural British Columbia with First Nation communities.”
O’Hearn took some time to answer questions about her experience earning a medical degree in Australia and her return home to Canada.
Q: In what ways have you benefited from doing your medical degree in Australia?
Being able to study medicine abroad allowed me to experience medicine in a global context and afforded me the opportunity to enjoy a different culture for four years. I was able to travel to many interesting places such as China, Tibet, and Vanuatu while in the Southern Hemisphere. I obtained solid medical training, which will no doubt enable me to fit well into the Canadian healthcare system.
What were the top aspects about the University of Wollongong’s Graduate School of Medicine program?
In my opinion, the cornerstone of the University of Wollongong Graduate School of Medicine program is the yearlong rural community placement, which spans the third and fourth years of the program. I spent a year in Narrandera, a rural New South Wales town with a population of 5,000 people. During this time I was placed in a rural general practice clinic with three full-time general practitioners and two registrars. I spent my time working alongside these doctors in the clinic and also in the 24-bed GP-run hospital in town. My days were spent on hospital ward rounds, assisting with c-sections and delivering babies, seeing patients in the emergency room, performing minor procedures and surgeries, and seeing patients in the GP clinic.
The breadth of clinical experience offered during this year solidified all the medical facts and skills acquired during the previous yearlong city hospital-based rotations. The learning curve was steep, and I walked away from that year with skills and confidence, which I believe wouldn’t have been acquired in a more traditional medical course curriculum.
This experience also introduced me to the type of practice I want in my future.
Q: How challenging was it for you to secure a match back in Canada, and what does this residency position in Family Medicine with the University of British Columbia mean to you?
Securing a residency training position in Canada is a huge challenge for IMGs (international medical graduates). I had to start planning my path home during my second year of medical school by organizing electives in Canada in order to get strong letters of reference from Canadian physicians. I also begin to prepare early for the MCCEE (Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination), which I wrote in the final months of my degree. On top of performing well in medical school, these are the two most important steps for a successful match into a Canadian residency position.
Matching into the residency position in Family Medicine at the University of British Columbia was a great milestone for me. I am passionate about rural healthcare, and the program I matched into is the Aboriginal Family Medicine Program based in Victoria, which will allow me to train in both a city and in rural settings such as Inuvik and the Queen Charlotte Islands. I feel the training I received at the Graduate School of Medicine has prepared me well to be involved in this Aboriginal family medicine program.
At first glance, it seems hard to imagine how medical experience in one country could apply to another country given the different medical systems. How did your experience in Australia prepare you to work in family medicine in rural British Columbia?
Medicine is a universal field, which is practiced similarly in most areas of the world. There are minor differences in drug names and treatment protocols, however, the similarities between how it is practiced in Australia and Canada outweighs the differences. I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I fit into the Canadian system during my electives in my final year of medical school in rural Newfoundland and Whitehorse.
The rural experience I had during my third and fourth years at the GSM has prepared me for rural practice with a focus on our First Nations people. I have developed a passion to work towards a solution to the problems we face with rural healthcare, whether in Canada or Australia. Both countries have higher rates of chronic illness and shorter life expectancies in their respective indigenous populations, and I will strive to work toward a solution to these issues in Canada.
What did you learn or gain from being a part of the Australian culture during your time there?
I believe it’s a privilege to live in a different country and learn about a new culture. I enjoyed experiencing all Australia has to offer for four years. It’s a beautiful country with an incredibly diverse flora and fauna with activities to appease any taste.
It also helped me appreciate all the wonderful aspects of living in Canada, and so even though I was sad to say goodbye to all my Australian friends and experiences, I was thrilled to move home.
What advice would you give to prospective medical students in Canada when it comes to graduate school options in Australia?
It is important to realize the challenges faced as an international medical student and graduate. It obviously requires a big financial commitment and also means a big move away from family and friends. I feel it is very important for anyone considering studying medicine abroad to research the options and have a solid understanding of the challenges they will face in securing a job after they graduate. The number of medical graduates in Australia has more than doubled in the past ten years, and unfortunately the number of internship spots has not. This means that it is very unlikely that international students will be able to be placed as interns in the Australian system in the future. Consequently, any Canadian or American students traveling to Australia need to do so assuming that they will have to return to North America for internship and residency.
It is not all doom and gloom, however! I believe the education in Australia is top-notch and the match rates for Canadians who studied medicine in Australia are better than any other region in the world, according to the match results recently posted on the CaRMS (Canadian Residency Matching Service) website. This means if you feel studying medicine abroad is the right choice for you – then Australia is a great option. The education is fantastic, the opportunities to enjoy a great work-life balance abound, and the chances of getting a job back in Canada are better than in other regions of the world.
So when will you actually return to Canada to begin your residency?
I am back in Canada now. I graduated in December 2010 and returned to Canada soon after. I spent much of February and March interviewing across Canada for residency positions. My residency begins July 1st, 2011, in Victoria, British Columbia.Print