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Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

17 November 2020

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A life-changing experience

When Stephanie O’Brien’s father suffered a stroke that hindered his mobility, his doctors said he would be on a long road to recovery. However, the hard work and dedication of his physiotherapists saw him walking in just a few weeks.

For ten-year-old Stephanie, this experience ignited a passion to help others in their journey to overcome physical limitations.

“I was only ten, so I really had no idea what a physio was,” Stephanie says. “But I saw how their work helped my dad and I was like, ‘I want to do that’. I want to help people like my dad and help their families as well because that experience had such a big impact on me.”

In July of 2020, Stephanie’s father faced further health issues when he was diagnosed with myeloma cancer and had to have neurosurgery to remove the tumour . Although this experience has been hard for Stephanie and her family, she says that it has pushed her further to work in the health sector.

“After neurosurgery, for a few weeks, you can’t walk, you can’t really sit up,” Stephanie says. “Being in the hospital with my mum and watching the physios working with my dad and being personable, not treating him like just another client but as a person — it was so good to see. That’s what I want to do.”

Nearly eight years after first realising she wanted to become a physiotherapist, Stephanie is ready to pursue her passion with the help of the JCU Rising Star Scholarship. The scholarship, worth $10,000, is awarded to Year 12 students who have demonstrated consistently high levels of academic achievement and who uphold their school’s ethos, as well as a commitment to regional Australia.

Much to Stephanie’s surprise, as well as receiving the JCU Rising Star Scholarship she also received an Early Offer to study Physiotherapy at JCU.

“I am really, really lucky,” Stephanie says. “I can’t believe it happened!”

Exploring health at JCU

Earlier this year, Stephanie had the chance to go behind the scenes at the Mater Hospital as part of the Heroes in Health program.

“There were fourteen of us students and we spent two days getting to go through the labs at the uni and meeting different types of health professionals,” Stephanie says. “We had a physio come and speak to us, and we got to do fun activities with occupational therapists where we learned about treating different types of clients.”

A highlight for Stephanie was getting to meet JCU students studying Physiotherapy and hearing their insights into the degree, as well as talking to the other Year 12 students in the program and hearing their passions for the different areas of the health sector.

“It was a big thing for me because it made me feel like this is really where I want to go and what I want to do,” Stephanie says. “Like, yes, I want to do health and I want to go to JCU.”

Of the different areas that physiotherapists can specialise in, Stephanie is most interested in perhaps the most complex part of the body — the brain.

“I want to go down the neuro path of physiotherapy,” Stephanie says. “It’s so interesting to see how the brain affects your muscles and your movement. And I’d like to travel, so I want to take what I learn to a lot of different communities.”

Three Heroes in Health at work
Medical students in a hospital
Stephanie at the Heroes in Health program in October 2020 (Image 1: First on the left. Image 2: Fourth from the left.)

What it means to be a health hero

After seeing how physiotherapists helped her father, Stephanie has a strong idea about what it means to be a health hero.

“A hero, especially one in health, is someone who’s selfless,” she says. “Someone who helps people because they want to, not because there’s any personal gain.”

For Stephanie, it’s all about the person.

“Health care is so amazing. You can work with someone and make such a connection with them, and see them improve. Knowing that you’re helping is so rewarding.”

Stephanie O'Brien

Stephanie says being compassionate and genuine not only helps with connecting to clients but can also boost their progress.

“It’s about being someone who really cares about patients and clients, someone who they can fall back on and know that you’re there and that you want to help,” she says. “And when they know that you really care about their progress in a personal way, they’ll be encouraged to put the effort in and get the best results from your time together."

No matter what your field or role is, you can be a hero to someone even in small ways.

“Being a hero is about acting in a way that encourages people to do the best that they can and being there for them," Stephanie says.

With her passion for health and for people, and the help of the JCU Rising Star Scholarship, Stephanie is only just beginning her journey to becoming a health hero.

Want to know how JCU can give you the support for your success? Check out JCU Scholarships.

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