Written By

Janine Lucas


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

5 July 2022

'It will be worthwhile in the end'

Townsville University Hospital intern Dr Naba Waheed moved from The Maldives, an island nation off the Indian subcontinent, to study medicine at James Cook University.

The 2021 graduate’s decision to complete Honours in the final two years of her Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree came with challenges but she has no regrets.

“Honours with medicine is a massive undertaking and the workload is one not to be underestimated, but I can guarantee you that it will be worthwhile in the end” is Dr Waheed’s message to medical students contemplating Honours.

“Research is an integral part of practising medicine in this day and age, and medical school is a great place to start. As a junior doctor, for example, trying to get into your specialties of choice requiring research, you already have at hand some skills to independently take on projects because you learned the essential skills in a highly supervised setting as an undergrad. You get advanced research skills under the supervision of successful researchers.”

Studying Honours concurrently with years five and six of the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree is just one of the Honours pathways available to JCU students wishing to gain real research experience during their medical degree. Alternatively, students can pursue Honours over year 6 and their intern year (or any time up to postgraduate year 5).

A one-year Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) is also available to medical students after they have completed the first three years of their Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree. In this case, JCU MBBS students are able to take one year out of the degree to complete a full-time research project before rejoining the MBBS.

Naba exploring North Queensland.

Photos: supplied

Health inequity and international challenges

In Dr Waheed’s island paradise home of Maldives, even vital services such as chemotherapy require patients to leave the country for treatment. “Growing up in the Maldives with the reality of constantly travelling overseas to gain quality health care with the limited services available in my country was one of the biggest driving factors to becoming a doctor,” Dr Waheed says.

“As clich├ęd as it may seem, I genuinely have never thought of becoming anything but a doctor. Both my aunt and uncle are paediatricians and they were in medical school abroad when I was growing up, so they were my inspiration for a long time. I remember being so fascinated with all their medical textbooks shelved in front of me and growing in size and number over the years.

“It was a challenging journey as an international student to balance final years of medical school and Honours whilst battling through a pandemic with my family being overseas. However, I think the last two years were when what I believe to be my personal strengths, perseverance and resilience, came into play the most. I 100 per cent always love a challenge!”

Three graduates forming heart in front of JCU sign
Young woman in teddy bear suit
Left: Naba and fellow JCU graduates Dr Celia Wang and Dr Anuki Kotuwegedara. Celia is a Townsville University Hospital intern along with Naba, and Anuki is interning at Joondalup Hospital in Perth. Right: Naba as the Teddy Bear Hospital mascot.

The power of research

Dr Waheed’s Honours research looked at the interplay between cardiovascular and endocrine diseases. Her supervisors were Professor Usman Malabu (Consultant Endocrinologist, head of the Translational Research in Endocrinology and Diabetes), and Dr Venkat Vengaveti (Research Fellow and founding member of TREAD).

“Our project aimed to determine the prevalence and risk factors for cardiovascular complications in patients with diabetic foot ulcers attending Townsville University Hospital in the last seven years,” she says. “Ultimately, our study enabled better characterisation of the high-risk diabetic population in North Queensland within the last seven years, which we can use in guiding focused clinical practice for the individualised health needs of the unique demographics we serve in this region, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.”

Interventional cardiology is at the top of Dr Waheed’s list of potential specialties, and she is confident her research skills will be useful in the academic career she hopes to maintain alongside clinical work at Townsville University Hospital (TUH).

“I am involved in a five-year prospective research project with the TUH cardiology department, which has been recently facilitated for me by my cardiology mentor Advanced Trainee Dr Sing Huey, who is leading this project,” she says.

She is also part of a safety and efficacy assessment project involving different sedation techniques used in endoscopic procedures in the gastroenterology department at TUH. It is part of a state wide, multi-centre study between TUH, Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, and Cairns Hospital.

Dr Waheed says TUH is an excellent place for internship: highly supportive, encouraging and diverse. “My entire support system in Australia is largely based within North Queensland. I genuinely cannot wish for a better place to start my journey as a doctor whilst being surrounded by the security and familiarity this regional city has provided me in the last six years. This is my new home."

Group of students on couch
young woman in front of medicine sign
Left: On second-year placement in Mount Isa. Right: At JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry.

How Naba approached Honours

“Initially, it’s all about keeping your academic level up so that you're able to get approved to do MBBS Honours. I kept my eyes and ears open for anything research-related and Honours-related from the very beginning of medicine.”

“Then in third year, I spoke to students who were doing Honours, because you have to do your first Honours proposal in year four.

“In year four, I was looking out for supervisors and emailing them directly. In year four, you find your research advisors, you come up with the project, do a proposal and apply for Honours. Based on your proposal and year four and previous years’ results, you can be approved into the program.

“In years five and six, the Honours team will give you guidance on research skills development and assessment submissions.

“Taking up Honours alongside the final two years of medical school is hard, but the key is being organised and adhering to a firm research/study schedule, and, quite frankly, the ability to handle stress.

“To do medicine with Honours, I believe what you need is dedication and an excellent team. Find the right supervisors who will guide you through what may be the first research journey you’ve undertaken.”

Want to know more about the unique experiences available through JCU Medicine? Dr Georgia Bulley talks about  "The best decision I've ever made" and Honours graduate Dr Kane Langdon goes above and beyond in Blackall.

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