Suzanne Nenke is a medical student at The University of Western Australia. She has recently had the opportunity to experience training in rural WA and overseas but, as she explains, it hasn’t all been an easy road.

When asked at age 13 what I would like to do when I finished school I replied, ‘I don’t know but I want to make a difference’. Ten years later I am striving to make that difference.
I am currently in my fifth year of Medicine at UWA. Through the Rural Clinical School, a joint initiative of Notre Dame University and UWA, I have been fortunate enough to study in Karratha this year. Along with two other students, I have been gaining clinical education through the Nickel Bay Hospital, Karratha Medical Centre, Marrenkara Aboriginal Medical Service and Onslow hospital.

This rural based education allows learning beyond the normal curriculum including rural medicine, red dust, mining, and the special needs of Aboriginal Health. Rural medicine in Karratha, while fundamentally the same as urban medicine, is 1600km from major hospitals and services. We have learnt how one doctor needs to develop skills in surgery, general practice, paediatrics, obstetrics, emergency, palliative and general hospital care–not to mention cultural skills–and sometimes all in one day!

Working in different locations in the same town has meant we see the same patients in different settings, including the shopping centre! Unlike our urban counterparts, we can’t hide! Living and studying in a regional location has deepened my understanding of what it will be like if I choose the path of becoming a rural General Practitioner. If this opportunity wasn’t enough, I recently received the incredible chance to explore beyond the bounds of our sunburnt country. I was offered a scholarship to study rural medicine in Canada.

I don’t want to sound like the girl who got straight A’s though–I didn’t! I took three years to be accepted into medicine. I didn’t have the Tertiary Examination Ranking to make the front page of the newspaper; in fact I cried when I saw my disappointing results. I don’t know how I have been fortunate enough to retain knowledge of the body when I can’t remember where I put my mobile phone. I have had to sit supplementary exams because of a failing mark when my grandmother died and I have had days when I have wondered if this is what I really want to do.

However, it has all been worth it. I hope that not being the perfect student will help shape me into a better doctor. When people say ‘it’s not possible’ or ‘you come from where?’, all I can say is that my family and experiences have made me who I am today. I have learnt from my home town, Kukerin (population 60), the importance of community and how each person needs a sense of belonging. Being home-schooled helped me be independent in my learning. My large family of three brothers, two sisters, and four nieces and four nephews has helped to keep me grounded. Should I become a doctor in a rural area, I believe all of these experiences will help me to better understand my patients’ needs, their backgrounds and culture, and to become a real part of their community. I don’t know where I will be in the next ten years but I know that where I have come from and the experiences I have right now are the key to tomorrow.