Written by Elena Perse

Five years later and nearly 200 kilometres from where her journey to medicine began, Esther La’Brooy-McIver still remembers the moment she decided to pursue rural health as a career.

Esther, now studying Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at Curtin, remembers a conversation she had with her mum, back home in Bunbury, just after graduating from high school. Her mum was worried about a friend who was at risk of losing her job because she was taking too much time off. It turned out that this friend regularly had to make the four-hour round trip to Perth to take her daughter to see a psychiatrist. No one in Bunbury could treat her daughter’s eating disorder, so she was putting her job on the line to get medical care for her daughter. Esther was shocked – Bunbury had plenty of doctors, even surgeons, but she had no idea that this kind of specialist care was so hard to find in her region. 

This was a turning point – a recent high-school graduate, Esther knew that she wanted to go into a field where she could make a difference, but she didn’t know where to direct herself. Hearing about the shortage of specialist medical care in her own town made Esther realise that there was a gap when it came to healthcare in the regions, and it was a gap that she could fill. 

Since then, Esther has moved to Perth, completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Human Biology, and begun her postgraduate studies. ‘I’m really stoked to be on this path to rural health’, Esther says. However, there are obstacles for those interested in providing rural healthcare who are also hoping to work as specialists. ‘To do specialist training, you have to spend a lot of time in metro areas to get the exposure you need,’ Esther explains. ‘Which isn’t great for rural health, obviously.’ Moving to Perth was necessary for her studies, but had it been possible, Esther would have most definitely chosen to complete her medical training somewhere regional. ‘I’m desperate to get back!’ Esther says.  

Moving to Perth was a big adjustment for Esther. She was used to the Bunbury lifestyle, constantly bumping into everyone she knew whenever she was out and about. ‘In the city, though, you say hello to people, and they don’t even say hello back,’ Esther reflects. The biggest challenge to contend with though was being so far from home. Moving to Perth wasn’t just moving out of home but also moving hours away to live alone for the first time as a 19-year-old. Contending with being away from her family while also starting at university was a lot, even without considering all the challenges of living alone: cooking, cleaning, rent inspections and food shopping. While Esther is glad that she took the plunge and moved to Perth – allowing her to pursue rural health as a career and teaching her valuable life skills – it wasn’t always easy.

After reflecting on her own experience, Esther has plenty of advice for other regional, rural and remote students considering moving to the city for their studies. Her first suggestion is to live as close to the university as possible. Esther originally lived north of Perth. Now she lives in a suburb over from Curtin and says life is much better now that she doesn’t live so far from campus. She also recommends keeping an eye out for all the scholarships available for regional students to help ease the financial burden of moving away to Perth. Another tip is keeping in touch with friends and family – ‘I know this is something that gets preached a lot, but it’s so important for your mental health,’ she suggests. Most importantly of all, Esther says, is doing your best to balance friends and family from home with your new life in Perth. ‘As you stick it out, you get better with practice – just hang in there!’    

In Esther’s case, moving in with a friend from Bunbury and meeting new people helped her to combat the isolation that she had felt since she moved away from home. ‘It completely changed everything for me,’ Esther says. ‘I felt way less isolated, and life felt so much brighter, having friends that I knew, trusted, and safe with.’ Building a community of new friends made life easier, but one of the things that made Esther love Perth was the food. ‘There’s so much good food you can just get your teeth into!’ Esther enthuses.

Esther is only just beginning her medicine journey, but she’s excited about what lies ahead and where she will go. ‘I went to the Kimberley last year for a holiday with my partner and felt a really special connection there,’ she says. Wherever she goes, she’s determined to make a difference in rural communities. ​​Esther sums it up: ‘I’ve really got to do some thinking to see where I can make the biggest impact, where I want to spend my time and the communities that I want to best serve and what I can offer.’ For others considering the same path, Esther urges them to listen to people with experience and learn from what they have to offer.