Superheroes wear stethoscopes

Eliza Cowley (left) and Seraina Elia (right) recipients of the Bill Nicholes "Willigobung" Scholarship for 2021 Bill Nicholes Willigobung Scholarship, ANU Medical School

As a 10-year old child, Seraina Elia saw the team of doctors who cared for her chronically ill mum as superheroes.  “I didn’t settle on becoming a doctor until much later – primarily because I believed, and was sometimes told, that it was impossible for someone like me to become someone like that.”

‘Someone like me’ was a child from a rural town on the far south coast of New South Wales. It took another doctor, many years later, who incredulously said, “Who on earth said you can’t become a doctor?!”, to make Seraina realise that she possibly could.

Like many students from a rural background, Seraina is a student without a financial safety net. Her pathway into the Doctor of Medicine and Surgery program was through the Bachelor of Health Science program.

“That degree was an extraordinary opportunity for me as it removed so many barriers to reaching medical school.  It meant I didn’t have to spend thousands on the UMAT or GAMSAT.  I was able to work part time to build up savings for medical school and I was able to achieve the more realistic ATAR goal despite all the challenges that studying in the country presents.”

With the award of the Bill Nicholes “Willigobung” Scholarship Seraina can stop worrying about how she will be able to afford medical school.

“This scholarship provides me much needed financial support, meaning I can focus my attention completely on my study and volunteering opportunities. I feel very privileged to be in this position and I don't take it for granted.”

“I consider everyone who has helped me on my journey to becoming a doctor to be quasi-family, so in my mind that extends to the Nicholes family as well.”

The Bill Nicholes Scholarship provides its recipients the opportunity to pursue their degree and other activities without financial stress. It also plays an important role in helping change the rural healthcare landscape by supporting those from rural areas to train up and return to their communities.

Eliza Cowley is also an awardee of the Scholarship for 2021. Eliza, originally from rural Queensland, was lucky enough to grow up in a town where there was access to general practitioners and a hospital. However, she’s acutely aware that this is not the case for all rural and remote communities.

“Traveling to other towns and communities made me realise that there is a large shortage of doctors who want to work in the country.  This is an issue because it means that people who live there can’t access the support and facilities they require without travelling long distances. I want to move back to a rural area during my career to help decrease this inequality.”

Studying medicine at ANU was always Eliza’s first choice. “I studied at ANU during my undergraduate degree and fell in love with Canberra, the people and the University. The rural stream course, offered through the medical degree, is such a fantastic opportunity to get clinical experience in rural or regional areas, which have varying needs and barriers in comparison to city populations.”

It wasn’t only the program but also the culture of the Medical School that was a drawcard for Eliza. “I’d heard that the medical cohort had a great community and culture and I haven’t been disappointed. The collegiality and support of my peers as well as the support offered by the teaching staff has made settling into the program quite easy.  I often learn best in a group environment and the friendliness and small number in the cohort means you get to know all of your peers on a deeper level.”

For both Eliza and Seraina, the Bill Nicholes Scholarship has opened many doors.

“This scholarship will change my life for the better and will remove so many of the associated stresses of medical school. It will allow me the opportunity to volunteer, be socially involved in activities and groups and make time to take care of myself.  I can see how compassionate Bill Nicholes and his family are and I am so grateful,” says Eliza.

“Where ever medicine takes me I will ensure it allows me to help people who are rural, low socio-economic status, or with chronic invisible illnesses. These are areas I am really passionate about,” explains Seraina.

“I’d also like to be able to emulate the level of compassion and understanding that my mother’s superhero doctors showed when I was a child.  I don’t have to be someone’s superhero but I’d like to know that I tried.”