Two Rural Doctor of Medicine Students, One Purpose: Uplifting the Rural Healthcare System

Meet Doctor of Medicine (MD) Rural Pathway students - Abigail Rowe and Gabriella Smith, find out what has made them gravitate towards the field of Rural Health and how they are pursuing their passion and advocating for a better future.

Abigail Rowe Gabriella Smith

Pictured L-R: Abigail Rowe and Gabriella Smith

Despite the differences in their pathways and journey so far, taking up medicine for Abigail and Gabriella was second nature. Growing up in rural Victoria and New South Wales respectively, both students quickly grasped the value of medical services to rural communities and the benefits of working alongside a close-knit staff. This drew them to the same dream of becoming a doctor one day.

For commencing end-to-end Rural Pathway student, Abigail, it was her role as a first aider at Mildura's lifesaving club that planted a love for medicine. This love only reaffirmed when she worked at the local Emergency Department, "I really found interest in the first aid side of things and the collaborative efforts to achieve a common goal of making things safer and better for everyone. I loved the variety of local people like the nurses, the doctors, the pharmacists, all the different staff who worked together on every case. And that's when I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine."  

While third-year MD student, Gabriella, who will be joining the Extended Rural Cohort, shared her dream of becoming a doctor was embedded in her rural surroundings, "Growing up in various rural towns and seeing the impact of GPs, really interested me and I think that's what made me first have the idea that I could be a doctor."

A change of environment upon venturing out into metropolitan areas transformed this interest in medicine into a passion for Rural Health. Stepping into urban health institutions sparked a question in their minds; why did rural communities suffer from having understaffed clinics while city institutions did not?

"Volunteering in the Emergency Department really solidified my passion for medicine, because I saw how well a hospital can function in the city when it has enough doctors. Seeing that was so different from the experiences I had growing up. The hospitals in Broken Hill and Griffith ran well but there were constant staffing issues." explained Gabriella.

Abigail said, "I think we had just accepted that if you wanted certain healthcare, you would have to travel six hours away to Melbourne." The impact is felt far beyond the immediate health of local patients, "It's a real inconvenience, it disrupts everyone's life and not just the patients I find." 

Questioning these inequalities lent the students a problem-solving mindset which moulded their sense of purpose and vision to become specialists in Rural Health. Gabriella shared,

That passion for wanting to close that gap meant that I needed to pursue medicine. Having a firsthand impact is what I really crave, being that primary point of care for patients, having a long-term relationship with patients.

Abigail, too, had a similar viewpoint, "My main drive to study medicine regionally is to give back to the community that raised me."

This reality made the path towards becoming a Rural Health professional both challenging yet clear for both Abigail and Gabriella. They both were on the lookout for quality education in Rural Health with a strong rural context and found that the University of Melbourne's Doctor of Medicine (Rural Pathway) program met their diverse needs.

Apart from acquiring rural education, Abigail and Gabriella are pursuing their passion by giving back to rural communities through deep-rooted community engagement. At Halad to Health, the international not-for-profit organisation, Gabriella’s efforts makes the goal of equitable global healthcare one step closer to fruition when combined with others’ inputs.

"What we predominantly do is provide free health education to high school students living in the rural Philippines about topics such as mental health, cyberbullying, teen pregnancy, really important topics that unfortunately, they don't get exposed to for various reasons. Mental health is a huge problem everywhere, but it's significant in the Philippines, especially for the young adult population." Her involvement with Outlook Rural Health Club, a student run committee at the University of Melbourne also helps in fulfilling her purpose, "We focus on increasing awareness amongst students about the importance of Rural Health as well as First Nations health."

Abigail finds that community sport and first aid reignites her passion for Rural Health, "I grew up going down to the river and learning about some basic first aid and rescue techniques. We'd patrol the river to try to prevent the inland drownings that happen in Australia."

When asked what their plans are for the future, Abigail said, "My ultimate goal is to return to Mildura and establish a career one day." Gabriella aspires to stay on with Halad to Health and make some strategic expansions into Australia by making education more accessible and mobilising support to rural specialists.

Gabriella is reminded of a reflection made by a student in rural Philippines,

If you have a passion for something like Rural Health, you don't have to be the whole waterfall that changes something, you're just one raindrop within that whole waterfall. If we all band together, encourage each other's passions in a productive way, then, hopefully we can get a waterfall flowing