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Faith Chitongo (Zimbabwe)

I grew up in a rural district called Wedza in the province of Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe. It is located 130km from the capital city Harare. Living in such a rural area meant health care services were limited. When it came to deadly diseases these areas were worst stricken because of lack of appropriate medical services. Therefore, from a young age, I witnessed premature and unwarranted deaths of relatives and friends from otherwise manageable tropical diseases such as cholera and malaria, and medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and HIV/AIDS.

My family is made of scholars and they have always emphasised the importance of education. Take my father for example, if not for his drive to further his education here in Australia, I would not have come here at the age of 11 or received the opportunity to study medicine. I always knew I would go to university but was uncertain on what I would do. In year 11, I was inspired by a family friend who was a medical doctor in regional Victoria. He spoke of health discrepancies the rural folk experienced due to limited access to healthcare and the need for more rural medical doctors to combat the gap. I found his successful patient stories very fascinating and stirring. His love for humanity and service to the underprivileged sparked my interest in medicine. I aspire to be like him and make a positive impact on people living in rural and remote communities.

Why JCU?

JCU medicine focuses on providing health services to rural and remote areas.  I wanted to study at a university that shared the same goal as me. JCU has provided me with a lot of opportunities to explore various aspects of medicine through clinical placements in Ayr, Townsville, Mater private, Mount Isa, Boulia, Mackay and Atherton Hospitals. Each provided opportunities to explore different specialities, network with other health professionals, improve my self-confidence and sense of responsibility. My most memorable clinical placement would be my fourth-year rural placement in Mount Isa and Boulia. Whilst there, I got the chance to see the social and emotional challenges and burden of disease the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population goes through daily. However, it was encouraging to see that there were services in place such as Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) that aimed to reduce this burden to people in rural and remote communities. This situation reminded me of my home country Zimbabwe, where people are unable to receive immediate medical help due to long physical distances and poor access to medical services.

Final year of medical school

My final year of medical school was the best year for me in terms of personal and professional growth. Not worrying about exams reduced my stress and allowed me to focus more on my clinical involvement and development. I feel blessed that my placements were not majorly impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. I spent the first 20 weeks of my final year in Atherton Tablelands and the rest at the Mackay Base Hospital. I also got the opportunity to tutor my fifth-year medical colleagues. Whilst at Atherton Hospital, I got the opportunity to improve my confidence in consulting patients, clinical reasoning and performing procedural skills. The supervisors were encouraging, involving, supportive and really wanted us to be better health professionals. Outside of hospital, I was never bored. I spent my weekends exploring the beauty of the Tablelands, from waterfalls to tea farms to fresh food markets in nearby small towns.

At Mackay Base Hospital, I completed emergency medicine, anaesthetics, respiratory medicine and mental health. These areas were nothing short of fun and amazing experience. I have picked up skills from all these departments that I will use as an intern and in the future. Overall, JCU has equipped me with the basics to start my new career as a doctor and now I aspire to further my knowledge and skills and be the best doctor I can be to my clients.

Image: JCU Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery student Faith Chitongo completed her placement at the Mackay Base Hospital.

Internship in Townsville and Mount Isa / future career

In 2021, I will be completing my internship with the Mater Private Hospital Townsville. Getting this job was not easy. I was one of 150 international medical students, nationwide, not matched for a state based internship position. As a Mater intern, I get the opportunity to work in private, public (Townsville University Hospital) and rural (Mount Isa) hospitals. I am always looking for ways to develop new skills and experiencing new environments. This year, I am most looking forward to my Mount Isa emergency department rotation and to learn more about rural health and medicine. I am grateful for this opportunity and am looking forward to providing my services to the Townsville and Mount Isa communities.

In terms of long-term speciality, I am thinking of surgery or critical care medicine.  I really enjoyed my surgical term in fifth year and my anaesthetics and emergency medicine rotations in sixth year at Mackay Base Hospital. I plan to gain more exposure in these areas before embarking on a speciality training pathway.

I wish the best to all my colleagues starting this journey with me. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for all of us.

To those commencing the medical profession ladder, the journey will pose its challenges and trials but with good study-life balance/habits, perseverance and resilience, all will work out and will be worth it in the end.