College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

11 January 2021

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The road less travelled

As a country kid growing up on farms in rural Victoria, Dr Megan Bates had no idea what she was going to do when she left school. She’s the first to admit her path into medicine was anything but straight forward. But as she heads off to start her intern year as a doctor at Mount Isa Hospital, she’s also the first to admit the journey has been well worth it. This is Megan’s story.

I grew up in the high country before moving down to the Victoria-New South Wales border, along the Murray River. I came from an area where most of the kids were farm kids, and while some of them went on to uni after school, a lot didn’t. There was a lot of pressure to go on to uni and become qualified, but I really didn’t have any idea at that stage what I wanted to do. I got into nursing but failed dismally. Then I just ran away. I decided I was going to spend my time driving around the country doing anything and everything. I went to work in shearing sheds and worked as a rouseabout. I worked in abattoirs, poured beers in pubs and worked as a cleaner. Then I took off to the Northern Territory and lived in a remote community where I ran the general store for a few years.

Megan bates on rural placement
Dr Megan Bates at her graduation
Megan enjoying rural life (left), celebrating graduation at the 2020 MBBS Oath Ceremony (right)

A rural calling

It was when I became pregnant with my son I that I realised, in a quite overwhelming way, that if I didn’t pull my socks up and do something, no one was going to do it for me.

There’s nothing like pregnancy to snap you into focus. I’d moved back south by this time, so I saved up and enrolled in a health sciences degree. That was where I discovered a love for anatomy and physiology and ended up majoring in genetics. Then I found out I could apply for medicine. It had never, ever been on my radar because it was something I never thought I could do. To me it was something kids did straight out of high school. Mine had been a very long journey, so it took a lot of self-belief. But I had really good grades because I was a mature age student with a young child by then and I was desperate to ensure our future.

I’d lived in Townsville during my travelling years and had really liked it. Then I found out JCU had a medical school there with a focus on rural, remote and Indigenous health and that really did it. During my time in the Territory I had lived in towns with Indigenous communities and it had been the biggest culture shock. I didn’t know people lived like that. It was truly an awakening. I love the toughness that comes with being in remote places. They’re not easy to live in, and the people are generally the best people in the world. There’s a real resilience to them. I love the aspect of remote and Indigenous health because what I’d seen in the Territory had shocked me to the core. We were still in Australia, but there was that lack of health care. If you have accidents out there you are buggered. There’s not an ambulance coming, it’s just the back of the truck that might get there within the next few hours.

Studying medicine in a course with that focus really appealed to me. I was originally accepted into the medical laboratory science course and applied from there. I was really at the point where it was my last shot. I decided if I didn’t get into medicine it was time to give up on that dream and move on from there. But I got in.

Megan Bates riding a horse
Megan Bates son
Megan was able to take her son Julian to Cloncurry during her final year of medicine placement. There he went to school and made new friends. Here is Julian at Balaclava station, Cloncurry

The ultimate juggle

Juggling a four-year-old and medicine was always going to be a struggle. I’d already found it hard managing back in Victoria with day care, study and the commute.

But my mum was originally from Cairns and was happy to head back North to help out if I got in. I would never have been able to get through this degree without her sacrificing her life down south. She’s definitely been our constant.

It can be really tricky as a mature age student juggling rural placements, but I’d have to say they’ve been the highlight of my degree. I’ve had two wonderful placements in Cloncurry that have changed my life. Just meeting the right people in the right team, in the right place and at the right time. It’s had a truly life-changing effect on me. I really felt I’d found my people out there. My fourth-year placement was spectacular there and I organised with the med super to come back and do all of my sixth-year there. I had the most incredible clinical exposure and such fantastic teaching. I am so intern ready, I couldn’t have planned it better.

Graduating at the end of 2020, I felt like I’d come to the end of a long tunnel. I never deferred, I just gritted my teeth. There was no way I was ever giving up on this. Once I got in, I held on tooth and nail. I wasn’t going back to milking cows, so failure was not an option for me. Perseverance is one of the traits I have in abundance.
Dr Megan Bates

Mount Isa Hospital

A future with passion

I’m off to Mount Isa to intern in 2021. I am so excited.

It was my first option and luckily for me I got it. I was accepted onto the Rural Generalist Pathway during 2020, which you need to apply for to intern in Mount Isa.

My future lies in rural general practice. I love the concept of cradle to grave medicine and love the rural lifestyle. My plan is to head out to Mount Isa and maybe do my advanced skills training in anaesthetics, emergency, Indigenous health or rural and remote medicine and then head back to Cloncurry and carve out my own little slice of paradise.

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