Written By

Janine Lucas


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

2 November 2022

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Local GPs inspire medical student

A hospital lab in the Sri Lankan capital and school in the central Queensland mining town of Moranbah were important stepping stones on fifth-year student Dilki De Silva‘s path to medicine at James Cook University.

“My mum worked as a medical laboratory technician at Colombo Base Hospital, where I was introduced to the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), looking through her microscopes and seeing things happen around the hospital while I was with her after school,” Sri Lankan-born Dilki says.

“So from an early age, I knew I wanted to do something cool with biology.  My mother had a great appreciation for doctors, growing up in rural regions of Sri Lanka where there were many tropical diseases like dengue and chikungunya.”

When Dilki was 11, her family moved to Australia, first to Toowoomba, and a year later to Moranbah, where she and her sister, Dilumi, completed school.

This year, Dilumi joined Dilki as a JCU medical student. Both are grateful for the education they received at Moranbah State High School, where they were awarded Dux in their graduation years. “Our teachers were proactive and able to help us throughout the whole application process to medicine, taking their free time, and were genuinely invested in ensuring we achieved our best,” Dilki says.

She says the great relationship between the people of Moranbah and their GPs is one of the inspirations behind her decision to study medicine. “Some of the GPs have helped deliver the kids I went to school with and been involved with their families for decades,” she says.

“However, it was also eye opening to see some GPs leave the practice, depending on the mining ‘boom and bust’ cycle, and the resultant troubles patients experience from having to travel far for simple health care.”

young woman leaning on wall with Mossman Hospital main entrance sign
young woman on beach
Left: Fifth-year medical student Dilki De Silva on placement at Mossman Multi-Purpose Health Service. Right: Dilki's sister, Dilumi, joined her in JCU's medicine degree this year.

JCU’s innovative, rurally focused medical education program recruits students from the regions it serves and trains them in, with and for the communities that need them. More than 80 per cent of Commonwealth Support Place (CSP) students enrolled in medicine at JCU this year are from regional, rural and remote communities.

As Dilumi completes the first year of her Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, Dilki is finishing the intensive clinical placement year JCU medical students do in year five of the six-year degree. Terms in mental health, surgery, medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, and general practice have provided invaluable experience. “They were all great. I got to see so many patients and scrub into surgeries and even go to outreach clinics like Charters Towers. I helped deliver a few babies in my O&G term, which was amazing,” she says. “On my GP rotation at Olive Medical Centre, Dr George Eboh has been inspiring with his teaching and dedication to his patients.”

Eager to give back to small towns like Moranbah after graduation, Dilki is exploring her interests in rural generalism, obstetrics and gynaecology, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s and children’s health.

The De Silvas have another aspiring doctor in the family – their brother, Iduwara,  is in Year 8 and keen to follow in his sisters’ footsteps.  “My parents were big believers in travel and exposing us to the beautiful landscapes and wildlife Australia has to offer and also vastly different city life, rather than sticking us to the books. We owe them immensely for the life they created for us in Moranbah,” Dilki says.

Dilki at Tolga Sunflower Farm near Atherton.

Photo: Supplied

Dilki writes about her favourite rural placement:

“My Mossman placement in fourth year of medicine was just phenomenal. The healthcare staff were so willing to teach and I was treated as a fellow doctor. I had the opportunity of seeing my own patients coming through the door, doing history taking and examination, diagnosis and presenting the patient to the doctor with investigations and proposed management.

“Essentially, at fourth year I was working at an intern level. The doctors would then give feedback about my approach and follow up each of my patients until management and discharge or admission. This was accelerated learning, and the patient cases were also highly variable, from common lifestyle conditions to rare ones. On my first day, I saw rare side effects of type two diabetes mellitus you would not normally see in the metropolitan clinics. On my third day, I was able to do my first procedure under supervision.

“My best experience out of that placement was at Mossman Gorge Primary Health Care Centre, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. I met the rural generalist who built the community clinic and helped build the community alongside it. He had this great rapport with his patients, who he has known for years. He had a focus on women’s health and it was eye-opening to see the complex cases he had to deal with in one day.

“This inspired me to possibly pursue a career in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s health and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander paediatric health, as they are underserved in our healthcare system. I have always wanted to come back and give back to the small towns that raised me like Moranbah and this was a great motivator to pursue a career such as this. The doctors’ lifestyle was also another tick. Their weekends were filled with all sorts of adventures such as snorkelling, diving and camping.”

young woman on bush track at sunset
young woman leaning on Townsville University Hospital sign
Left: JCU medical student Dilki De Silva: "Travel around your placement site and see the beautiful nature and reef that Australia has to offer." Right: On clinical placement at Townsville University Hospital.

Dilki’s advice for students embarking on their first rural placement:

“My advice is definitely try to make most of placement. Travel around your placement site and see the beautiful nature and reef that Australia has to offer. When you are on placement, make sure you volunteer to do as much as possible and get involved. Being shy was not beneficial in my preclinical years, yet being more active and hands on alongside staff has given me a wide variety of experiences.”

JCU is on a mission to Make Rural Health Matter. Find out how JCU medical students Anna Duan, Ella Cobon and Mitee Parekh are making a difference during their studies.

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