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Written By

Andrew Cramb

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

22 December 2022

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Far North Queensland sisters shared healthcare journey

Like many rural families, the Gills have faced difficulties accessing health care, particularly in an emergency. Through experiencing such challenges, they’ve been inspired to become part of the solution. Bavelin, the youngest in the family, is now the third sister in as many years to graduate from JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry (CMD).

Bavelin Gill has made it a CMD hat-trick, following older twin sisters Harjyot who graduated from Medicine last year, and Nirjyot, who graduated from Dentistry in 2020. All three have stayed on to work in the region, with the junior doctors at Townsville University Hospital and the young dentist at a clinic in Townsville and Charters Towers.

Growing up on a banana farm in the Far North Queensland coastal community of Cardwell, Bavelin says as a child a career in medicine seemed far from reality.

“I always felt coming from a small town like Cardwell, a prestigious career such as medicine would not be possible. But at the end of the day, I’ve been very fortunate for the village that has raised me and the opportunities I’ve had which are very similar to those available in metropolitan areas,” Bavelin says.

Now, as a JCU Medicine graduate, Bavelin has looked back on six intensive years of training and is excited to be joining her sisters as Townsville-based health professionals.

“I am very excited to graduate today,” Bavelin says. “It has been a privilege studying at JCU and I am thankful for each and every one of our academics, clinicians and staff members who have created a  platform for me to learn, grow and deliver healthcare in the future. Although a tremendous journey is coming to a close, I look forward to embarking my next chapter.”

“Today is such a special day, and I owe my success to my family and friends. They have showered me with unconditional love and support for which I am truly grateful for. I can’t wait to celebrate this milestone with them today,” Bavelin says.

Gill sisters at Bavelin's graduation
Bavelin and mother Harjinder at graduation
Left: The Gill sisters at graduation, inset: RDAQ conference in 2017 during Bavelin's first year at JCU. Right: Bavelin with mum Harjinder, inset: a newspaper clipping from Bavelin's birth in 2000.

A passion for health care runs in the family

Bavelin says while she and her twin sisters all followed their own paths, they were always around to support one another. In the earlier days of Bavelin’s degree, the sisters used most weekends to ‘meet in the middle’ at the family farm in Cardwell. Bavelin and fellow medical student Harjyot would travel two hours north, while Nirjyot would head the two hours south from the JCU Dental School in Cairns.

“We would head home most weekends, until uni got a bit too busy,” Bavelin says. “Still to this day, whenever we’re free, we’re back home helping Mum and Dad on the farm; driving the tractor or packing bananas. The latest was just a few weeks ago after I completed my final placement and returned to the farm to pick lychees. No matter what we become, my sisters and I will always be our Dad’s little helpers.

As you’d expect, Bavelin’s sisters were cheering her on at the graduation ceremony in Townsville in December.

“We’re super excited,” Harjyot said, “We love that we can share in Bavelin’s success and happiness. It’s hard to believe our wonderful journey at JCU is coming to an end.”

“We are all very grateful for the exceptional teaching and unforgettable opportunities we have received through JCU,” Nirjyot adds. We have created such fond memories which we will cherish for years to come.”

Proud parents Nirmal and Harjinder Gill were there to see their third daughter in as many years graduate through JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry.

“We’re so proud,” Harjinder says. “All of Bavelin’s hard work has finally paid off.”

Looking back, Harjinder says there was a particular moment during the girls' upbringing that steered them towards careers in healthcare.

“Nirjyot’s lung collapsed when she was in Year 10,” Harjinder says, “Because we live in a rural area, there are limited opportunities to see a doctor, which can make receiving urgent care a challenge. It was after that moment that the girls were inspired to pursue a career in health and medicine.”

The condition returned for Nirjyot during her studies, and last year Bavelin was also diagnosed with a collapsed lung that required surgery. She says the experience provided her with valuable insight into the patient perspective.

“Being in the hospital as a patient can feel like a frightening and overwhelming experience, especially when you are at your most vulnerable. I came to learn that a caring, focused and compassionate team of health professionals can make a world of difference to comfort patients and their loved ones during a distressing time,” Bavelin says.

Bavelin on RFDS Placement
Bavelin on the Lynn Kratcha Memorial Bursary placement in North Dakota
Left: Bavelin on RFDS Placement with Dr Don Bowley. Right: Bavelin exploring North Dakota on her bursary placement.

Seeing the need close to home

Medical emergencies and rural upbringing sparked the interest in rural health. Nurturing this passion was the JCU medicine program’s core focus on exposure to rural and remote health through extensive placements across Northern Queensland and beyond.

“JCU has provided us with life changing experiences and continually inspired us to pursue rural health. Ultimately, we have acquired the knowledge and skills to assist in the provision of healthcare in rural communities,” Bavelin says.

With rural placements in second, fourth, and sixth year, JCU medical students are not only receiving hands-on training experiences, they’re also actively contributing to the health care of rural and regional communities that are impacted by Australia’s maldistribution of doctors.

After over 3,375 hours of clinical placement, Bavelin says there are so many formative experiences that have got her to where she is today. One of the highlights was a six week placement with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), based out of Mount Isa, as part of a John Flynn Placement Scholarship.

“The unique exhilarating experience of flying to remote communities with the RFDS is unparalleled to anything I have experienced thus far,” Bavelin says. “We travelled to small rural and remote communities across North West Queensland. As you fly over those places, you’re struck by how vast and untouched the land is and that there are tiny pockets of people living in some of furthest corners of this beautiful country.”

As part of her RFDS placement, Bavelin assisted with aeromedical emergency evacuations and delivery of primary health care services. “I was fortunate to see how the RFDS constantly strives towards allowing those living in rural and remote areas to enjoy similar health outcomes as those living in cities.

Another highlight during the degree was a placement in North Dakota, USA as part of a Lynn Kratcha Memorial Bursary.

“It was an eye-opening experience observing doctors deliver essential health services to rural communities. Alongside clinical placements in the hospital and GP Clinic, I ws also immersed in the  North Dakota culture. In my spare time I enjoyed ice fishing, sledding, flying, hunting, shooting and cross country skiing.”

In terms of core placements, the highlight of Bavelin’s sixth-year has been a 10 week placement in the Far North town of Mareeba earlier this year. It was there she honed her practical skills with a level of hands-on training opportunities that would be extremely rare experience for medical students in larger tertiary centres.

“Mareeba was such a rewarding experience. I scrubbed in for surgeries and colonoscopies, and assisted in the provision of care for patients in the ward and ED department. It felt like the past six years of knowledge and skills were all coming together when finally putting it into practise. This was evident through the positive health outcomes I witnessed for my patients which was heartwarming to see,” Bavelin says.

“Rural placements are where I learned the most. It’s in these places where you feel valued, where you’re filling a need and you’re part of the team.”

Bavelin presenting an abstract submission at AGES22 Conference
Bavelin and Prof Sen Gupta
Left: Bavelin presenting an abstract submission at AGES22. Right: Bavelin with JCU Townsville Clinical School Head, Prof Tarun Sen Gupta

Holding onto words of wisdom

Bavelin says another key feature of training with JCU is the seasoned clinicians and academics who have been supportive role models in rural medicine.

“The clinical teaching team and my supervisors have taught me so much. And even more than that, they’ve actively encouraged me to pursue opportunities. One mentor, Dr Jay Iyer, encouraged me to present a poster at a conference in Melbourne this year. Without the inspiration and guidance of my mentors, I don’t think I would have stepped outside my comfort zone nearly as much. Undoubtedly it is an impossible task to count the numerous ways my mentors have shaped me into the person I am today. I am sincerely thankful for everything they have done for me,” Bavelin says.

Bavelin is also a mentor herself, volunteering as a JCU Medicine Mentor and JCU Student Ambassador since the second year of her degree. She says it was something she was inspired to do after being so well supported by her first-year mentor.

“It's been my personal philosophy to give back to others, whether it be through the provision of healthcare to communities, or mentoring medical students.” Earlier this year, Bavelin was recognised for her contribution to the ambassador program and awarded the JCU 2022 Student Ambassador the Year.

A home for the future

After six years based in Townsville, the regional hub certainly feels like home for Bavelin and was the logical choice for her internship year.

“I definitely want to stay regional, either here in Townsville or somewhere similar. Far North Queensland is a fantastic place to train and live and I would love to give back to the communities which have provided me with so much.”

Bavelin says she loves the laid-back lifestyle in Townsville and makes the most of the outdoors on the weekend.

“The lifestyle and the people are both sensational. It’s a close-knit community and people really get to know each other up here in North Queensland.

As she prepares to commence internship at Townsville University Hospital, Bavelin says she’s holding onto the words of Townsville Clinical School Head, Prof Tarun Sen Gupta.

“I will definitely remember what Prof Sen Gupta told us, it’s not how much you know, it’s about how much you care for your patients,” Bavelin says.

Bavelin on placement with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)

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