A final-year Wagga medical student has been honoured for her work to close the gap and support doctors from disadvantaged high schoolers enter the profession.
University of Notre Dame Wagga medicine student Kate Hurst, 25, was named the Rural Doctor's Association of Australia's (RDAA) Medical Student of the Year Award at a rural medicine conference in Hobart on Friday night.
Ms Hurst is passionate about supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and unfamiliar with the process towards becoming a doctor, because she was once there herself.
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The former Mater Dei student did not have a family medical background and found it quite challenging knowing how to navigate the landscape on her path to become a doctor.
"I set out on my journey to medicine as a high school girl in Wagga and I think students are really isolated out here from you vast array of resources that Sydney and metropolitan kids," Ms Hurst said.
"Coming from a non-medical background adds another layer to that, because you have to work out what you need to do and when and why.
"That journey itself was so confusing and daunting and I had a few hiccups along the way but I got there eventually."
That passion has prompted Ms Hurst to take the initiative in several ways on behalf of others who will face the challenges she has in the future.
This year, she began Rural Medicine Pathways which saw Aboriginal, refugee and disadvantaged students from more than 31 high schools in rural NSW attend a day-long event in Wagga to talk about health issues, lifestyle choices, and pathways into health careers.
The students were then enrolled in an individualised mentoring program with local medical students to help build their connections and self-confidence when applying for careers in healthcare.
Aside from that, Ms Hurst has also been active in ensuring the wellbeing of medical students and junior doctors through a range of projects, and volunteers with organisations including the Wagga Red Cross, the Riverina Cancer Care Centre, and a local complex disability support service.
Ms Hurst has just completed her final year at Notre Dame and will start as a junior medical officer at Wagga Base Hospital next year.
Former Wagga doctor Mandeep Kaur was also honoured at the event, receiving the inaugural RDAA Rural Doctor in Training of the Year Award for 2023.
The junior doctor grew up on a vineyard at Hillston in the region's north, before travelling to India to undertake medical studies.
From there she returned to Australia and trained as a junior doctor at Wagga Base.
Dr Kaur loves rural medicine due to the variety of work and that it offers the chance to make a difference and join the community.
"Growing up in Hillston, I've always been aware of the challenges that rural patients can face, but value the opportunity to help those who often don't have the same access to care as those in the city," she said.
Throughout her junior doctor years, Dr Kaur has constantly advocated for improving access to healthcare for Australians in the bush.
She has already helped develop a remote rheumatology telehealth service for the Riverina, making it much easier for patients to be able to access the additional specialist care they need without having to travel long distances.
Dr Kaur hopes this service ultimately may be able to be rolled out more widely across rural and remote Australia.
She was also a key contributor behind initiatives to support the wellbeing of junior doctors - something that was sorely needed during the pandemic, when it was often difficult for junior doctors to access consistent face-to-face training.
Dr Kaur has also organised numerous initiatives to boost rural health research capacity, including the Murrumbidgee Regional Research Symposium in Wagga last year.
Her efforts as a junior doctor saw her named Resident of the Year at Wagga Base Hospital in 2020.
In 2021, Dr Kaur moved to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney to commence basic physician training.
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