Dr Melissa Carroll thanks AIDA for encouraging her to become a doctor

12 May 2017
Member Story

As an Indigenous medical student, Melissa Carroll made it her mission to give a voice to her fellow Indigenous medical students. Now, a first year Indigenous medical doctor and an AIDA Member, we congratulate Melissa on her achievements so far. Her family are Wiradjuri from the Central-West area of NSW and she grew up in Newcastle on Awabakal and Worimi lands.

We asked her how long she has wanted to become a doctor for and how it felt when she passed her final exams.

“Like many of us mob, I took the long route to becoming a doctor. It never occurred to me that it was a possibility. It wasn’t until I was in my tenth year as a registered nurse that I began thinking about medicine. I knew I was ready to challenge myself. I knew it would be tough, so passing that last exam was an extraordinary feat and proud achievement.”

Having been an AIDA member since 2013, we asked Melissa how AIDA supported her through her studies.

“It was actually AIDA that encouraged me to pursue this path. I remember sitting at the computer one day and typing in ‘Indigenous doctor’ and the AIDA website popped up. It was on that day I knew that it could be a reality. Being an AIDA member has provided me with a unified support system. The friendships I have gained through the AIDA networks have provided the framework for collegiate and professional support and these relationships have worked in synergy ensuring we encourage each other in our successes.”

We asked Melissa to describe a typical day at work as an intern.

“As an intern at the University Hospital in Geelong, I have been fortunate to be part of a relatively small cohort, which has meant I have been able to develop strong relationships with my peers. The hospital itself provides a broad range of services to the Barwon region and has one of the busiest emergency departments (ED) in all of Australia. I am currently working in the ED. A typical day is busy. You hit the floor running, seeing as many patients as possible during your shift. In the ED you never know what you’ll get – which is part of the beauty. For me though, I prefer the wards where you get to spend longer with your patients and are part of their journeys.”

We asked Melissa if there are any people or organisations that particularly inspire her within Indigenous health.

“There is a lot of work being undertaken to enhance Indigenous health and employment in the Barwon region. I have been lucky to be involved with activities within Barwon Health as well as Deakin University and the local Aboriginal Medical Service. For me, it is the Indigenous students who are inspiring – I enjoy being available and present and building positive mentoring relationships. It is a two-way beneficiary. It’s very important to me to continue to work alongside our learners. Mentoring is one of the most important aspects of this career. I have always been an active participant in mentoring relationships – through my nursing career and now my medical career. I am a strong advocate for mentoring and have always taken an organic approach. It is a process of dedication with mutual benefits. I think we all have experiences with mentoring and if we think about it, those relationships are the ones that get us to where we are today.”

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about the funding shortfalls to public hospitals and what consequences this has on meeting the growing demand for services. We asked Melissa what her view is on this situation.

“Funding is a political topic, which is multifaceted. I appreciate there will always be a need for increased funding to meet service demand – obviously any funding cuts will impact on current capability. Even as a junior doctor it is made very clear that funding is an issue. We have to work within our means and provide the best possible care regardless of funding. After all, it is the people who suffer – but we can ensure that our attitudes don’t.”

Melissa was appointed the first Indigenous Officer for the University of Queensland (UQ) Medical Society and the Indigenous Affairs Officer at TROHPIQ, the rural health club of UQ, Queensland University of Technology, the Australian Catholic University, Central Queensland University and the University of Southern Queensland. We asked her to tell us a bit about these experiences.

“When I was appointed as the first Indigenous Officer for the UQ Medical Society, I was disappointed to realise that there had never been an Indigenous representative before. So I made it my mission to use this position to advocate on behalf of our student cohort in all areas relating to the student journey and how the University delivers Indigenous health. For the first time it provided a platform for discussion and a means to promote us as capable, proud academics. It was a way to promote the successes of our colleagues and it gave us a voice, letting everyone know that we’re here and we deserve to be – just like everyone else. In the role I liaised between the Indigenous student cohort, the School of Medicine and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit. This meant we were able to communicate effectively and openly among the teams. We have been able to cement this role as a permanent fixture at UQ as well as some significant activities the University embarks on to promote Indigenous health and encourage those thinking about medicine to consider UQ.

“The role as Indigenous Affairs Officer for TROHPIQ was a fun role which saw me able to take students to the Top End for the Barunga Festival, where we partnered with the Northern Territory Government Department of Health Centre for Disease Control – Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses Unit. We ran a stall promoting sexual health in the remote area while enjoying the beautiful country we visited. We also partnered with various Indigenous communities and community organisations throughout South-East Queensland running activities in rural and remote settings. It was a great way to get people interested in taking their careers beyond the big cities.

“Through all of this I have become even more dedicated to working in infectious diseases and sexual health medicine and hope to practice around the Top End of Australia. I spent a few months as part of my studies in Darwin working out in communities which was so humbling and very rewarding.”

We asked Melissa if she enjoyed last year’s AIDA conference in Cairns and what her highlights were.

“I always enjoy catching up with friends and hearing about their experiences and where they are up to on their journey. I loved spending time with the Rural Flying Doctor Service, which gave us some practical exposure to their role. Oh, and the hands-on workshops are always fun. Playing with the surgical tools demonstrated that I will never be a surgeon!”

Lastly we wanted to know if Melissa will attend the AIDA Conference in the Hunter Valley in September.

“Absolutely! My leave is approved!”

12 May 2017