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Written By

Tianna Graham


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

12 February 2021

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Ready for the next step

For many, leaving school or changing career to begin a journey into a health profession can be a daunting prospect. You may feel excited, scared and anxious all at once. While you are standing at the precipice of the next four to six years of study, it can be comforting to hear from those who have gone before you. A number of JCU graduates and students have imparted some advice for first-year students, to help smooth the transition to university and beyond. Here are their top six tips for success.

Create good habits

Dr Laura Schembri – JCU Medicine graduate, Townsville University Hospital Intern

"My advice to the first-year students would be to create good habits from the get-go. The notes you create and knowledge you build from the first year you continue to build on throughout, so working hard from the start really does help in the tougher final years. And also to enjoy it! You will be spending a solid amount of time at uni, so it’s worth enjoying the journey. And you definitely will if you make the most of the variety of clinical and non-clinical experiences that come with the course."

Laura Schembri with the Mackay cohort
Laura Schembri
Dr Laura Schembri with the Mackay JCU Medicine students (left), and on placement (right)

Knuckle down in the early years

Dr Samuel Bartsch – JCU Medicine graduate, Mount Isa Hospital Intern

"If I could go back in time and give myself some advice on starting my degree it would be this: just knuckle down and get through the first couple of years. Each year it gets better and better, more and more fun, and more hands-on. The further you go, the more relevant it gets, and the more fun it becomes."

Emma Dall’Alba – JCU Pharmacy graduate

"Throughout my studies I was taught the power of persistence and hard work, and I’ve learned how fortunate I am to have found passion in my chosen career. I believe what we learn with pleasure we never forget, and I’m grateful to say my whole university experience was an absolute pleasure."

Sam Bartsch at Innisfail Hospital
Emma DalAlba on placement
Dr Sam Bartsch on placement in Innisfail (left), Emma Dall'Alba during placement on Thursday Island.

Jump on opportunities to gain experience

Dr Clarise Sornachalam – JCU Medicine graduate, Mackay Base Hospital Intern

"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 health professionals, so learn with enthusiasm, look after yourself and each other, and enjoy your time at JCU."

Breannan Busetti – JCU Pharmacy student

"I would highly recommend students attend at least one rural placement in their time. It is incredible seeing how a small town can function without the services we speak so highly of and yet take for granted. I’ve completed my placements with nothing but good things to say about them. They are experiences of a lifetime."

Dr Clarise in the RACQ CQ Rescue chopper
Breannan Busetti at Mary Kathleen dam
Dr Clarise Sornachalam in the RACQ CQ Rescue Chopper (Left), Breannan Busetti enjoying her placement experience in Mount Isa

Find your study-fun balance

Dr David Uprichard – JCU Medicine graduate, Cairns Hospital Intern

"My best piece of advice for those starting their journey into a health career would be about balance. Make sure you enjoy yourself. If you’re not, step back and think about what you are doing and take in the big picture. There’s plenty of time to study over the course of your degree, but if you’re all study and no fun it’s not going to be great. Make sure you get that study-fun balance right. Most of all, enjoy it. It’s been the best six years of my life so far."

Dr Kylie Del Solar – JCU Dentistry graduate, mum of six and former nurse

"Making time for family was a priority for me during my time at JCU. I was very strategic in planning my study time. I did what I could at university and treated it like a job. I utilised as much time as I could on campus.  Once I got home, as my husband was always working away, it was homework for the kids, and then dinner. But I always made time for myself — even if it was just to sit and watch some mindless TV for an hour.  Once 9pm came, I would study until midnight every weeknight, then sleep and the day would begin all over again.  I tried to make weekends family time unless there were exams or a big project on."

Enjoy your holidays, and don't be stressing when you get to the end of your exam. After exams I would immediately be thinking about being prepared for the following year, and that’s not ok. Finding that balance is important, because if you are completely consumed by study, which is very easy to do, it does nothing to encourage a well-balanced life.
- Dr Megan Bates, JCU Medicine graduate, Mount Isa Hospital Intern

Kylie Del Solar with her family
Dr David Uprichard and his mate
Megan Bates on rural placement
Kylie Del Solar and her family (left), Dr David Uprichard (far right in the top right image) with his mates, Dr Megan Bates on rural placement (bottom right)

Use support networks and don’t give up

Cameron Suley – JCU Dentistry graduate

"If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander student, remember that you have the support of the officers at the Indigenous Education and Research Centre, who always check in to see how your studies are going. You also have the support of the lecturers and year coordinators. Everyone is very friendly. There were a few times when I had some ups and downs and I took a semester off. Any time I had an issue or a problem I could email or phone any of the JCU staff and they were there to help. The thing is to keep going. If you set your mind to do something, you will finish it in the end. As long as you're committed and don't give up, you'll be fine."

Kiralee Gross – JCU Pharmacy graduate

"Join a student club. For me, being a part of the Pharmacy student club opened up so many doors to meeting other students and having some fun. You get to know everyone really well.  We even called each other ‘Pharmily’."

Cameron Suley dentistry graduate
Kiralee Gross Pharmacy graduate
Dr Cameron Suley (left), Kiralee Gross (right)

Be respectful and compassionate

Linda Gualtieri – JCU Dentistry student, former Dental Hygienist

"If I have learned one thing from 25 years being in dental hygiene it’s that you don’t know where that other person is coming from — you don’t know what happened the day before. You have to treat that person with the utmost respect, but you have to try and put yourself in another person’s shoes. I have worked with dentists who are just so short and impatient and they just can’t be bothered and it was usually something that happens over the years as they just get burnt out. I just find it really important that you try and look at some things through the other person’s eyes."

Dr Toby Sen Gupta – JCU Medicine graduate, Townsville University Hospital Intern

"Something I thought about in my final year was that all the doctors I've regarded as good doctors have also been good people. You can study a textbook all day long, but what’s really important is being a compassionate person with your interactions, and with patients particularly. I think as a student and a doctor, you need to put more of an emphasis on being able to talk to patients. It’s such a key part of the job. In the first few years of studying medicine, we focus on learning everything from books, video and lectures. But there's a whole other set of skills you can gain from having hobbies outside of medicine. So if there is one parting piece of advice I can leave for first-year students, it’s that while textbook learning is an important foundation, it's the interpersonal experiences that make your life and future practice so much more engaging, rewarding and fulfilling."

Linda Gualtieri in the JCU Dental Clinic
Toby Sen Gupta with his Dad Tarun
Linda Gualtieri in the JCU Dental Clinic (left), Dr Toby Sen Gupta with his Dad Professor Tarun Sen Gupta (right)

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