Inspiring the Next Generation of Medical Students

9 min | Medical Careers
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Cam Mutton

April 26, 2019

Our UNSW Wavelength International Elective Scholarship winner for 2018 shares her experience working in Bourke

“The Scholarship gave me such an eye-opening experience into Indigenous Medicine as well as how remote communities function.” Jean Littlewood, medical student & Wavelength International Elective Scholarship recipient 2018.

Jean Littlewood, Wavelength Elective Scholarship recipient 2018

Wavelength UNSW Medical School Elective Scholarship winner 2018 - Jean Littlewood

In our last UNSW medical scholarship article, our founders Claire Ponsford and John Bethell speak about the importance of closing the health gap in Rural Australia and how we can help Indigenous communities.

“Giving to UNSW is about supporting cutting-edge research, creating equality of opportunity for students and establishing partnerships that positively impact our community and the wider world”, Dr John Bethell, Wavelength Director and founder.

Today we speak with Jean Littlewood, our 2018 Wavelength International Elective Scholarship recipient, about why she got into medicine and her recent elective in Bourke.

What inspired you to become a doctor?

“When I was in my final year of high school, I did work experience with a local rural GP in Manilla, NSW. It was then that I realised that I wanted to become a rural GP.

At times, the GP had to leave the surgery for emergencies and I was left to speak with patients until he returned. It highlighted to me the shortage of doctors in rural areas and inspired me to work towards helping a rural community.

The connection that the GP has with the community is something that also really appealed to me. I moved to Sydney to study Medical Science. Living in Sydney reaffirmed my love of the country and desire to return and practice as a doctor. During my degree, I have tried to raise awareness of the benefits of rural medicine and the importance of rural health. I was lucky enough to gain entry to the UNSW Medical School the following year!”

Do you know what you would like to specialise in?

“I would like to be a rural generalist. I am not sure about what I will specialise in as part of my training, but I really enjoy Palliative Care. Most of all, I want to work around inland Australia!”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years once you’ve graduated?

“I hope to be in a rural or remote community practising as a GP. I would also like to own a property in those areas one day.”

Tell us about your Indigenous Elective placement and how it impacted you?

“Going to Bourke is like visiting another world. I had always wanted to experience what Medicine was like in Western NSW after visiting a small community called Weilmoringle shortly after I left school.

Bourke has a high Indigenous population and it gave me such an eye-opening experience into Indigenous Medicine as well as how remote communities function. I met so many amazing people and heard some incredible stories.

The sheer distances around Bourke to neighbouring communities and stations was extraordinary. It was sobering to see poverty in my own state and to see how crippling remoteness can be in terms of hope and opportunity.”

“Though some days can be quite harrowing, the people in Bourke had the most extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness.” Jean Littlewood, Wavelength International Elective Scholarship recipient 2018.

“The experience was invaluable in teaching me more about how to interact with Indigenous people, both socially and in the medical setting, as well as seeing their culture and values first hand in our current society. At times, the gap in health outcomes was so depressingly obvious between Indigenous and non-Indigenous that it really stimulated my awareness of working towards closing this gap".

"Though some days can be quite harrowing, the people in Bourke had the most extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness. The distances meant that to get a simple test like a CT or ultrasound, a patient had to drive to Dubbo, four hours away. This was the same for seeing some specialists. One man told me that he had driven to Dubbo to see a fly-in specialist whom he had waited a number of months to see. The receptionist had rung to say that the specialist was running a bit late, but had failed to mention that it was a three-hour delay. After driving four hours and waiting in reception for another hour, the patient was then told that the specialist would not be able to see him. The Doctor couldn’t stay back later or would miss the flight back to Sydney. The patient said to me ‘what can you do, this is just what you get used to living in Bourke.’ This was a patient who could afford the trip to Dubbo, but some patients cannot afford the trip”.

What are your future aspirations in relation to indigenous health?

“Indigenous and rural health was always what I wanted to do. Doing my elective in Bourke helped me on my journey to becoming the best GP I can in a community with an Indigenous population. Learning how to speak with and respect patients regarding their Indigenous ties was invaluable, as well as hearing the advice of GPs already practising in the community.”

In what ways has the scholarship impacted you?

“This scholarship enabled me to visit a community that has changed my life path and taught me the first lessons in becoming a medical practitioner in such a place. Not only was the Medicine challenging and at times confronting, but it was also compelling and mind-boggling in how far we still have to go in improving rural, remote and Indigenous health.”

“Learning how to speak with, and respect patients regarding their Indigenous ties was invaluable…” Jean Littlewood, Wavelength International Elective Scholarship recipient 2018.

“I discovered that I will need to further my skills in Emergency Medicine in order to be confident enough during on-call shifts in a remote community. It has shown me the different ways that people in our state live, and the extreme differences between metropolitan and regional lifestyles.

All in all, it has provided me with lasting education on Indigenous health and welfare that could never be taught in a lecture hall. I’m also further inspired to learn more and become the best GP I can, to be a part of communities just like Bourke.”

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Jean!

We take pride in making a wider difference.

One of Wavelength’s core values is Heart. Hearing about Jean’s life-changing experience in Bourke reminds us of the impact we can make within communities across Australia with the work we do every day here at Wavelength.

The Wavelength International Elective Scholarship aims to support UNSW Medicine students during their 6th year 8-week elective placement. The scholarship is open to UNSW Medicine students undertaking all or part of their elective placement within an Indigenous community.

If you would like to learn more about the Wavelength UNSW Medical School scholarships, please email us at

Interested in working in rural or remote communities? Register with Wavelength and our team will be in touch!

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