ERIKA Chapman-Burgess told hardly anyone she had applied to study medicine, out of fear she wouldn’t be accepted into the degree.
Fast forward six years to Dr Chapman-Burgess’ University of Newcastle (UON) graduation and she couldn’t contain her excitement, even if she tried. “I felt like it was Christmas last night before going to bed,” Dr Chapman-Burgess said. “To say I’m proud is an understatement. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’d do it again if I had to. It’s my dream and all I’ve thought about for the past six years.”
Dr Chapman-Burgess, 24, is a member of Australia’s first set of Indigenous quintuplets and proudly wore an Aboriginal stole over her academic gown at the Faculty of Health and Medicine ceremony on Thursday.
Of the 113 medical students who graduated, six were Aboriginal. UON has produced half of the country’s Indigenous doctors.
“I’d never met an Aboriginal doctor before coming to Newcastle and believe I’m the first Indigenous doctor from [my hometown] Glen Innes,” she said. “I’m extremely passionate about Aboriginal health and would love to be a specialist in women’s health, obstetrics and gynaecology, and work in rural and remote communities. It’s a privilege and honour to work with Aboriginal people and I definitely have a different connection with Aboriginal patients. As soon as they’re aware I’m Aboriginal, the whole process changes. That’s why we need more Aboriginal doctors, to close the gap in health and life expectancy.”
Dr Chapman-Burgess was considering a career as a veterinarian before she stumbled upon an episode of television show Grey’s Anatomy when she was in year seven.
“I’ve got a caring nature and I’ve had family members become unwell and pass away at an early age,” she said. “I started thinking ‘Can I make a difference? Can I contribute to healthcare in this country?”
The “quiet achiever” studied for one year, took a year off to do casual work and then returned to the degree.
“It affected me physically, mentally and emotionally, I’d come home in tears saying I didn’t want to do it anymore, but you get up and go back to work the next day because you have to do it,” she said. “It defines you, it makes you a totally different person because you have a whole different concept of life and what really matters – your family, relationships and not to sweat the small stuff. Working with people who do have health issues also makes you realise that if you are healthy and have a great life, you should be very grateful for that.”
She said the keys to success were working hard, having a plan and willpower.
A total of 5429 students will graduate this month at the UON Great Hall.