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Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery
Growing up in Cairns against a backdrop of domestic violence and substance abuse, the last thing Anastasia Jensen expected was to become a doctor.
Now nearing the end of her degree, the proud Torres Strait Islander woman will be the first in her family to graduate from medicine.
“Unfortunately I did come from a bit of a rough childhood,” she said. “There were not a lot of expectations for me to achieve beyond the average in my family. So for me to do this wasn’t expected.”
But the James Cook University medical student believes her childhood experiences have driven her to pursue a better future for herself and others.
“I like to share my story because it gets down to basics with a lot of young people. Many who I have spoken to come from a very similar background to me,” she said.
“I’m passionate about encouraging them to break down those barriers; to not think that just because you’re not encouraged to pursue a future, just because it may not be readily accessible doesn’t mean it’s not for you.”
As a young high school student in Cairns, few would have picked Anastasia Jensen as a future doctor. Poor grades and a history of wagging school saw her shipped off to family in Brisbane to continue her studies. It was the change she needed.
She finished school and returned to Cairns to start an administration role in the public service.
After eight years, she knew she needed new challenges so Anastasia enrolled in a Diploma of Health Science, studying anatomy and human physiology at James Cook University.
“I fell in love with that and I really enjoyed helping people so I thought about pursuing nursing. Then I got to know some medical students. I saw what they were learning and the impact they could make, and knew that was what I wanted to do.”
The mother of two admits tackling medicine was a lot harder than what she’d done before. But she said it's been very rewarding.
“There’s a lot of work involved. You have to have a lot more time management and commitment but I feel I am really accomplishing something.”
When you talk to Anastasia her passion for medicine and the course shines through. After many rural placements and a recent surgical rotation at The Townsville Hospital, she’s firmly focused on the future.
“I’m definitely considering surgery, but I also love emergency medicine. I’m also drawn to rural generalism. I like the idea of being able to work across the wards and emergency. I’d like to combine all those,” she said with a laugh.
“So maybe a career as a rural generalist with a specialty in emergency or surgery would be the way to go. That would be the highlight of my future.”
While her drive, commitment, and a supportive husband have helped her through the years of study, she knows many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can struggle at university through no fault of their own.
She believes their studies combined with a cultural load can lead to burnout.
“Cultural load includes your cultural responsibilities and duties, and the specific cultural expectations placed on you. It has a very big impact on Indigenous students.
“It can also include stresses in your generation caused by culture. A lot of our experiences are impacted by the trauma of substance abuse and mental health issues. A lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are affected by what is going on in their families.”
But she said there is plenty of support available to those who want to study at JCU.
“JCU is outstanding. It provides a lot of academic, emotional and social support in medicine.
“We have homegroups where students get together with a leader and go over everything. We make sure no-one’s struggling. It’s an indirect way to keep an eye on how everyone is going and provide support.”
“As an Indigenous student, I also have access to the Indigenous Research Centre where they have tutoring and support. It feels like a family, they really look after all us students.”
With her years at JCU drawing to a close, Anastasia is keen to ensure that more Indigenous young people follow in her footsteps. Especially those who, like her, would never have thought such a future was possible.
“Don’t allow doubt, judgment or fear to hold you back. Self-doubt is one of the biggest barriers, it reinforces all our reasons why we shouldn’t apply. But so many of those barriers can be easily overcome with the resources and strategies available at the Indigenous Education and Research Centre,” she said.
“So if you have ever wanted to do medicine but thought it wasn’t possible, I’d say just go for it. We need more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors. If you want it, don’t hesitate.”