Dr Claudia Paul dreams of working as a general surgeon in rural and remote Australia

04 Apr 2017
Member Story

AIDA spoke to Dr Claudia Paul who finished her studies last year to become a medical doctor. We asked her how it felt to pass her final exams after five years of studies.

“It has taken a little while for it to sink in, that I have now finished medical school (finally) and am working as an intern. My final exams were at the end of fifth year, and I remember it being a very overwhelming day for my family and I. It does take a bit of getting used to, going to university and not having any exams looming, and then awaiting that first letter in the post with ‘Doctor’ printed on it.”

Claudia grew up in Broken Hill, in far-west NSW, where she finished high school before moving to Adelaide to start university in 2011. Throughout school she played a lot of sport and only really started to focus on study during year 11 and 12 when gaining entry into university became more of a priority.

“Moving to Adelaide was a very quick learning curve in the first few months. I had to juggle living away from family and friends with basketball training and medical school studies. Nevertheless, it provided me with a great base to develop my time management skills and become very independent early in medical school. I think this was very beneficial to me when the workload started to increase in the lead up to final exams.”

During medical school, Claudia was a committee member of multiple student organisations and charity events, and she worked as a research assistant during her final year. She completed several rural and remote placements in Port Augusta, Whyalla, Broken Hill and Bourke as well as overseas surgical electives in Vietnam and the UK.

“I have always been interested in a career in healthcare, and family and friends thought I was going to do physiotherapy. It wasn’t until year 11, when I learnt of the College of Sport and Exercise Physicians in 2009, that I started considering medical school. I thought a career in sport and exercise medicine would be the perfect fit for me, so I started planning how I would study, what subjects I needed to cover and which medical school I wanted to go to. It was during my first clinical year that I did a rural surgical term and loved the idea of being a rural general surgeon. This lead to many other surgical placements and encouraged my application for a scholarship to attend the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) Annual Scientific Conference last year.

“My dream job is to work as a general surgeon in rural and remote Australia, working in communities where it is otherwise difficult to access surgical services.”

In January this year, Claudia started a position as a medical doctor at the Hunter New England Local Health District in Newcastle. We asked her how she is finding her job so far.

“I love it. I have surprised myself at how much I want to be at work. There are many times throughout medical school that you ponder the thoughts of ‘is all this study worth it’, but I couldn’t be happier. My fellow interns are great, the Hunter New England network is incredibly supportive, and there are many opportunities to engage with different specialties on audits and other research projects.”

Last year, Claudia received the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ASC Foundation for Surgery Scholarship. This year she was also awarded the 2017 Career Enhancement Scholarship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Junior Doctors. We asked her how these scholarships help her to pursue a career in surgery.

“The scholarships assist with attendance at conferences, both the RACS Annual Scientific Conference and the AIDA Conference. This provides a platform to submit and present research projects, learn from leading surgical specialists and develop networks with other junior doctors wanting to pursue a career in surgery. The career enhancement scholarship for 2017 can be used in many ways. For me, it will assist with a Critical Literature Evaluation and Research course and my JDocs membership as well as resources for a Masters of Traumatology.”

Claudia has worked as a research assistant both for the Cancer Council South Australia and at Wardliparringa in the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. At last year’s AIDA Conference in Cairns she also presented on the topic “Building medical students’ capacity to navigate psychosocial and supportive care needs and services for Aboriginal youth affected by cancer in South Australia, through research participation”. We asked her if she could tell us a bit more about this project and her interest in working with cancer as a doctor.

“This project looked at the psychosocial and supportive care needs of youth (aged 12-25) affected by cancer in South Australia. During this time I worked with two Medical Students from Flinders University to collect and interpret data from supportive care services. We looked at the appropriateness of these services towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and family members. It was shocking to see the age for age disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians mapped out in front of us, and the need for further research to address the severity of cancer diagnosis in this population.”

AIDA launched a new mentoring program this year, so we asked Claudia if mentoring is important to her.

“Mentoring is very important to me. During my time at medical school, I was a part of the Flinders and Adelaide Indigenous Medical Mentoring program which is run by a small group of doctors in Adelaide who are passionate about Indigenous health and the mentoring of Indigenous medical and dentistry students. It provided me with support and guidance throughout my time in Adelaide and provided a network to engage with other Indigenous medical students. During my final years of medical school, I mentored junior medical students to assist them in navigating the often-testing times of medical school, which I found very rewarding and encouraging for the next generation of Indigenous doctors.”

We asked if Claudia always felt culturally safe during her studies as an Indigenous medical student and what she thinks can be done to ensure cultural safety.

“I would be surprised if any of my Indigenous colleagues felt culturally safe ‘always’. I think there has been a great improvement in cultural safety in recent years, however there is always more that can be done. The most important things for me in regards to cultural safety is to listen, without judgement, and utilise every encounter with an Indigenous patient as an opportunity for learning. We need to encourage the Indigenous education and cultural workshops provided by our institutions, and ensure that health providers and universities continue to incorporate appropriate cultural education into their curriculums and work environments. This will be the way we improve understanding from both perspectives and continue to build relationships between our Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues.”

We also asked Claudia what advice she has for any Indigenous Australians who are thinking of becoming a medical doctor.

“Go for it. It is hard work, and it takes time but it’s worth it! I had several ‘career advisors’ say things like “Why not physio?” and “You won’t get in to medical school”. If you are passionate about medicine and willing to work hard, then the opportunities are there.”

Finally, we asked Claudia if we will see her at the AIDA Conference in the Hunter Valley in September.

“You definitely will!”

04 Apr 2017