Rural communities can benefit when their students attend Medical School

Photo of Peta O'Brien, Bill Nicholes Scholarship recipient

Peta O'Brien, who hails from a rural community, shares with us what inspired her to study medicine, why she chose ANU Medical School and what the Bill Nicholes "Willigobung Scholarship for Medicine" means to her.

Medicine and rural communities

Growing up in Parkes in the Central West of NSW, Peta saw first-hand the impact of the shortage of medical doctors in rural areas. The lack of permanent local doctors, the long wait times and the need to travel to larger centres for specialist appointments, was (and still is) the norm. “When health issues arise there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to access appropriate health care.  My own experiences with healthcare in rural settings, and that of others in my community, influenced my desire to study medicine. Medicine gives me an opportunity to make a significant and lasting impact in rural communities.”

Decisions about which medical school

Having studied her undergraduate degree in Orange, Peta was keen to choose a location that was close to home but that also offered a cosmopolitan lifestyle so she could experience something different.  ANU Medical School fit the bill perfectly. “I really enjoyed being in a small cohort when I studied my undergraduate degree. I was friends with everyone in my course, all my lecturers knew me by name, and this allowed for a strong support network to be established. So when it came to applying to medical schools, I was seeking a university that would give me a similar experience and ANU being a smaller medical school seemed like the perfect fit for me.”

Rural program and interview process seal the deal

“When looking at medical schools I was also aware that ANU has a rural program where students can attend one of several different rural clinical schools including Bega, Eurobodalla, Young, Goulburn, Cooma and Cowra. I was excited about the prospect of being able to complete part of my training at one of these rural locations.” But what sealed the deal for Peta was the interview process. “It actually felt reasonably relaxed and inviting, a credit to the staff of the Medical School. I also had the opportunity to speak with first year students on the day of my interview and this gave me insight into how supportive and collaborative the learning environment is at the ANU Medical School.”

Big city, big challenges

The idea of moving to a new city and entering into an intensive course like medicine was an exciting prospect for Peta. But after falling ill just a few days before the program started, she became apprehensive as it meant delaying her start by a couple of weeks. Luckily, upon moving to Canberra any anxiety Peta had quickly dissolved. “The staff and students made me feel very welcome and I was provided with significant support in catching up the work that I had missed. Whilst it has been challenging to keep on top of all the content, I have enjoyed the variety of subjects and particularly the practical clinical skills.”

Bill Nicholes scholarship supports rural students and ultimately rural communities

“The biggest factor I had to consider in making the decision to come to ANU Medical School was my financial situation. My parents are both farmers and have been hit hard by the recent drought conditions and consequently they were not in a position to be able to financially support me. Without the Bill Nicholes Scholarship I would not have been able to attend as I simply did not have the financial means to do so. It has allowed me to study without the stress of financial burden.  I thank Bill Nicholes and his family for giving rural students, such as myself, the opportunity to enter into the field of medicine.”

Longer term, Peta hopes to either return to Central West, NSW, to open a general practice or relocate to a rural location where health worker shortages exist.

We wish Peta every success over the next four years of study and look forward to her fulfilling her goal of providing medical expertise in rural communities.


About the Bill Nicholes “Willigobung Scholarship for Medicine”

Bill Nicholes lived and worked on his family’s farm, Willigobung, near Tumbarumba in New South Wales, for most of his life.  He also cared for his elderly parents at the farm as their health deteriorated.  Bill’s experiences caring for his parents and his own medical conditions most likely contributed to his decision to leave a generous bequest of more than $4.2 million to support graduate medicine students at ANU.