Publish Date

28 January 2021

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Following a passion

JCU Medicine graduate Dr Clarise Sornachalam was born in South Africa. When she was five years old, she moved with her family to Mackay, where her dad worked as an occupational medicine physician. With an older brother already studying medicine at JCU, you could say the profession was in the blood for this North Queensland local. In 2021, Dr Sornachalam will take up her intern year at the Mackay Base Hospital. This is her story.

My decision to pursue a career in medicine stemmed from my passion for science and desire to make a positive impact in people’s lives. I believe that everyone should have access to appropriate and affordable healthcare regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, geographical location, or any other factor. The combination of my results in school and in the Undergraduate Medicine Admission Test (UMAT) provided me with the opportunity to study medicine at many Australian universities. JCU was top of mind for me, however, since my older brother, Dr Keenan Sornachalam, was a graduate of the program and had told me about his fulfilling experiences.

Cast cutting workshop at Bowen Hospital
Clarise standing outside Mackay Base Hospital
Clarise attending a plaster casting workshop at Bowen Hospital (Left), Clarise's last day at Mackay Base Hospital as a med student (Right)

The pull to JCU

JCU’s focus on training doctors to help underserved communities and people living in rural and remote Australia really appealed to me.

Before finishing school, I spent some time as a volunteer at an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Service and learnt how to promote the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through preventative health measures. So JCU’s emphasis on training students to practice high-quality, culturally safe medicine captured my attention. It equipped graduates to contribute towards closing the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.

The clinical exposure in the JCU medicine curriculum also stood out to me. It incorporated clinical placements from the first year of studies with opportunities to develop clinical and cultural competencies on rural placements throughout the course. Another important consideration for me in deciding to study medicine at JCU, was the option to complete my fifth and sixth year in a regional setting like the Mackay Base Hospital. When I considered all these factors, I made the decision to study medicine at JCU. Having just completed my final year, I am grateful for the valuable placement opportunities, which have undoubtedly helped prepare me to be a confident and competent medical intern.

RACQ Rescue Chopper helipad
RACQ Rescue Chopper tour
Clarise pictured with the RACQ CQ Rescue Chopper on her sixth-year rural placement (Left), Clarise on a Helicopter tour in the RACQ CQ Rescue base during her sixth-year Critical and Crisis Care rotation (Right).

Rewarding medical training

There have been many aspects of the JCU medical degree that have culminated in a very rewarding medical school journey for me.

JCU fosters a strong culture of peer supported medical education and I have had the privilege of being involved in tutoring throughout the course, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. I can recall numerous clinical training highlights, from learning to suture in second year and having the opportunity to perform that skill on a patient under supervision during my second-year rural placement to following a mum and her unborn child through antenatal checks as well as helping deliver the baby and witnessing the baby’s first breath during my fifth-year obstetrics and gynaecology placement. Being able to assist the doctors and paramedics from Retrieval Services Queensland on my rural placement and visiting the RACQ CQ rescue base at Mackay Airport were among the most memorable experiences from my final year.

If I had to select a favourite placement, it would be my fourth-year placement in Bowen. This rural placement helped advance my clinical competency as a medical student by providing me with the opportunity to correlate clinical signs with my knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, as well as develop my clinical reasoning and practice procedural skills that are invaluable for internship. I also attended the Bowen Christian Family Church and participated in community events, which enabled me to connect with the local community.

As a Mackay local, I am thankful for what growing up in this community has offered me, including an excellent education as well as academic and cultural opportunities at school and a supportive church family at New Life Church Mackay. Before starting my JCU medical studies I endeavoured to give back to the Mackay region through various initiatives. This included hosting a regional 'Women in Science' breakfast, encouraging high school girls to consider careers in science, and organising a Breast Cancer Awareness week at my school. During my time as a sixth-year JCU medical student in Mackay, I held the position of the Mackay representative of JCU’s General Practice Student Network (GPSN). In this role, I encouraged medical students to pursue careers in regional and rural general practice through organising and promoting informative events with doctors involved in general practice training in regional areas such as Mackay.

Clarise with Prof Tarun Sen Gupta at Graduation
Clarise first day of internship at Mackay Base Hospital
Clarise with Professor Tarun Sen Gupta at the MBBS 2020 Oath Ceremony (Left), First day of internships at Mackay Base Hospital (Right).

Internship in Mackay

I now eagerly look forward to giving back to the Mackay community as an intern at the Mackay Base Hospital.

My older brother, who also completed his final two years of medicine in Mackay, before undertaking his internship at the Mackay Base Hospital, supported my decision to choose Mackay for internship. His advice to me was that, for an intern, the hands-on learning experience in a regional setting like the Mackay Base Hospital is unparalleled. I am grateful for the opportunity to work as a medical intern in Mackay and I hope to build on the knowledge and skills I acquired while in medical school, including clinical acumen and communication skills, to work effectively as an intern and in my future career.

I am currently considering specialist training in Paediatrics or a career in general practice with a special interest in Paediatrics. Whichever career path I pursue, I believe the training I received at JCU has prepared me to practice medicine with a commitment to a shared model of care between my patients and I. Throughout my medical training I have been taught the importance of patient-centred, holistic medical care that addresses the bio-psycho-socio-cultural impact on health, and I will always strive to prioritise this in my practice as a doctor.

My advice to students beginning their medical school journey would be to get involved and gain as much experience as possible throughout your studies. The time you invest now is invaluable, you may discover areas of medicine that fascinate you and direct your future career path, or learn more about medical fields you were unfamiliar with — it all contributes to improving your knowledge and skills as a future member of the healthcare team. Remember, you are becoming the next generation of doctors, so learn with enthusiasm, look after yourself and each other, and enjoy your time as a JCU medical student.
- Dr Clarise Sornachalam

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