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Dr Kiran Sharma (Canada)

When psychiatry registrar Dr Kiran Sharma arrived in Townsville from Canada, she was a locum radiation therapist contemplating a career change.

“I had a few great mentors in radiation oncology who suggested I apply for medicine,” Dr Sharma says. Plan B had been to return to Canada to study law, but she instead took a detour after her travels and gained entry to JCU’s medical degree program, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery.

Now in her third year of psychiatry training at Townsville University Hospital, Dr Sharma has worked all of her junior doctor years and started a family in North Queensland since graduating in 2015. She is currently in a clinical and academic role educating medical students and junior doctors as the medical education registrar for psychiatry.

“The sunny weather and casual lifestyle were appealing and have kept me here for 12 years,” Dr Sharma says.

“JCU provided a broad base of medical knowledge with particular attention to tropical medicine, regional and remote areas and Indigenous populations, all of which has helped me relate to and help my patients.”

After studying at JCU, Dr Sharma shares her experience and tips for international medical students.

“You have worked hard for six years studying medicine, whilst being far away from home and paying international tuition fees. During these years, you were given equal opportunities in medicine, but now at the pointy end of the journey, you realise that Intern allocations are citizenship based, and you will have to wait your turn for an internship, so now the panic is setting in!

After 12 years in Australia, Dr Kiran Sharma has established her career and life in Townsville.

“The year I graduated from JCU medicine was a rare year where Townsville University Hospital was fully subscribed by domestic students, and I believe this has not occurred in the many years since. There were no public hospital internship allocations available for International Medical Students (IMSs) in the state initially.

“It was horribly stressful. It was anxiety provoking. It was hard to keep perspective. I worked so hard alongside my classmates and paid my way, which involved working part-time and living frugally, and yet the divide between us remained and they would get a job and I would have to wait. It seemed unfair not to have a merit-based system.

Fortunately, my patience paid off, and within a few months I was offered a Mater Hospital internship with most of my rotations in the public hospital and my ED rotation in Cairns. The year was amazing for learning, growth and professional development.

“I was not disadvantaged in the slightest as an IMS. I earned the same amount as my peers and my experiences were no less valuable. Your experiences and opportunities will always be what you make of them. The support I received as a Mater intern was incredible because of the small intern cohort.

Now, her career design has been a balance of family and work life, in a field where she can spend time understanding the issues her patients face and help them make positive changes for their mental wellbeing.

“Every day is unique and challenging,” she says.

Dr Sharma is one of the mentors in a peer support group Northern Queensland Regional Training Hubs (NQRTH) has set up to help international fee-paying students navigate the Intern Campaign and the complexities of having to apply both interstate and in Queensland. The peer mentor group connects current interns, who were last year’s graduating international fee-paying students, with current JCU international fee-paying students.