Dr Andrew Higgins - The long road to success
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For most the prospect of fifteen years of study and training to achieve their career goal may appear daunting, but for maxillofacial surgeon, Andrew Higgins, the hard slog has been well worth it.
The Queensland based surgeon was working as a junior doctor in Brisbane when a rotation with the maxillofacial surgery team confirmed his love of the specialty. But the path to his goal was never going to be easy.
"To be accepted to train for the specialty you have to have both a medical and dentistry degree. You also need to have worked as a junior doctor for a year and as a surgical resident medical officer for a year. Only then can you apply for the program."
Determined to pursue a career in maxillofacial surgery, Dr Higgins enrolled in the newly established Dentistry program at James Cook University. While it was hard to return to full time study after several years working as a doctor, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
"I met some great people, many of whom are still close friends today. Clinically my final year was very enjoyable, and working part time as a maxillofacial principle house officer at the Townsville Hospital was a great experience."
"Without the opportunity to study dentistry at JCU I wouldn't have been able to pursue this career path."
It wasn't just readjusting to student life that posed a challenge. Dr Higgins also continued to practice as a doctor while completing the course.
And he admits the juggle wasn't always easy.
"It was difficult. I would often work until two AM doing home visit services after having been at University all day."
Despite the challenges, Dr Higgins successfully completed the degree and was accepted into a place in the surgical training program.
"Surgical training is at times very stressful, especially around exams. I haven't quite experienced anything like the stress or pressure to pass the final exam. Studying 30 hours a week while working a busy full-time surgical job can be challenging," he said.
"Passing the final exam is my biggest achievement thus far. There have been many sacrifices throughout training and plenty of missed occasions with family and friends.
"The most difficult thing to learn in training is how to operate independently and problem solve during an operation when there is a great deal of pressure."
Despite the challenges it's a career path he'd certainly recommend to those with a passion for the field.
"It is an enjoyable and rewarding career, but it's a long road that requires many hours of hard work and study. As long as they're aware of that then I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested."
"It is always enjoyable to fix or solve any problem. If a patient has an injury or disease that you can fix, then that is extremely satisfying and rewarding."
Dr Higgins said he's also benefited from a great support team.
"I think if you have a close support network of family and friends then most things in life are much easier. That is certainly the case for applying and training in oral and maxillofacial surgery."
Having now achieved his goal, Dr Higgins plans to go to Oxford University to take up a Fellowship in head and neck reconstructive surgery, before returning to work in Brisbane.