1 May 2023

How a confronting African experience spurred a passionate teen to become a rural doctor

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Dr Juliet Chan

Wagga Wagga Base Hospital junior medical officer Dr Juliet Chan is one of 28 interns. Photo: Murrumbidgee Local Health District.

Dr Juliet Chan dreamt of becoming an actress but found her true calling on a trip to a Ugandan mission.

The Wagga Wagga Base Hospital junior medical officer had a confronting experience as a teenager on her visit to Uganda, where she witnessed firsthand the lack of infrastructure and inadequate access to proper health service.

“It made me take stock of my aspirations and realign them to a more meaningful life centred on others,” Dr Chan said.

“Once you have seen that kind of poverty, it is hard to look away, and I wanted to do something meaningful with my life, to make a real difference.

“I had witnessed suffering for myself and I thought, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?'”

Dr Chan was a diligent student at school, had an interest in science and had a lived experience with her mother, who suffered from a chronic illness.

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With her mother’s illness and the complexities of her ongoing care, Dr Chan decided to pursue the field of medicine.

As Dr Chan has a passion for rural health, she decided on Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, a pioneer in its training program for young doctors.

The medical graduate is one of 28 interns who began their two-year training program this year at Wagga Base Hospital, where the focus is on rural and regional medical practice.

The program provides formal and on-the-job training across various specialties during the internship year.

Dr Chan felt Wagga Base Hospital was great at providing the necessary support and opportunity to finish her supervised year of practice, which will help her become an independent medical practitioner.

She said the hospital had a “good reputation for looking after junior doctors” and that she would benefit from the support.

“You tend to build closer professional relationships with your bosses, and they seem to be more invested in your professional development, and they have more time to spend with each intern,” Dr Chan said.

“I have travelled around quite a bit already as a junior doctor and worked in many rural facilities across NSW, and it is a good opportunity to travel around and experience all the opportunities in rural and remote settings.

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“It can be more complex and diverse, and you practise in a much more general scope rather than being limited to a single niche specialty.”

Dr Chan said she was considering the Rural Generalist Training Pathway and looking to pursue GP obstetrics.

“I feel there is a gap there, and to be able to practise as a community doctor with a specialty is another way to make a positive impact here,” she said.

“I am really enjoying it so far, and I love the culture at Wagga Base Hospital and within the community.

“All the junior medical doctors here are new, but we are all looking out for each other and feel connected already.”

Dr Chan’s husband is a GP who has finished his training, and she feels lucky he was able to follow her in his career.

Since moving to Wagga, the pair have joined a local church and found everyone to be welcoming of them.

“Everyone is welcoming, inviting us for dinners and social events. We feel like Wagga is home already,” she said.

“My faith as a Christian has given me the encouragement and strength to keep going, even when I think I do not have much left to give.”

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