Growing up, Derk Pol always wanted to be an airforce pilot but at 197 centimetres, was too tall.
The aviation industry’s loss, however, turned out to be the medical profession’s gain.
Derk is one of seven Gippsland born and bred medical residents working at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon this year.
While different pathways led each to their new profession, they share a deep appreciation of the “regional experience”.
“Growing up in Gippsland was fantastic,” said Derk who was born and educated in the Moe area. “I felt extremely lucky and it was wonderful to be able to do this course so close to home,” he added.
“If you are from a rural background you are more likely to go back to the rural area. You can tell some kids from the city feel as though they are being forced to the country but rural kids don’t need any incentive to return.”
Educated at Tanjil South Primary School then Presentation College in Moe, he transferred to Marist-Sion College in Warragul when Presentation College closed, before doing a degree at Melbourne University.
Derk did his first year of Monash University’s graduate entry medical degree at Churchill, his second year at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon, his third year at Warragul Hospital and his final year at regional hospitals including Mildura, Bendigo and Frankston. He completed his internship at LRH last year.
He praised both the Monash School of Rural Health and LRH. “The School of Rural Health has done a great job at attracting regional students as has LRH in retaining interns,” Derk said.
“LRH is only going to get bigger. It offers a great exposure to ICU medicine in particular. You get exposed to the real emergency medicine and there is more opportunity to do more cases.”
Derk may specialise in cardiology but admits it is “a long road ahead”. And that dream to fly still remains with a long term goal to get his private pilot’s licence.
Shane Robbins from Maffra worked in Melbourne for almost eight years when he decided on a career change.
Educated at St Mary’s Primary School in Maffra and then Catholic Regional College in Sale, Shane said “medicine ticked all the boxes”.
He believes “life experience” helped him make a decision about what he really wanted to do in life. “You become more focused on that choice,” he added.
Shane wanted to return to Gippsland so the idea of studying at Churchill through the Monash School of Rural Health “was perfect”.
“I love the variety of work which is hard, but satisfying,” he said. “Working in a major referral hospital such as LRH provides opportunities that are not available in large metropolitan hospitals. You learn quickly as there are not as many staff.”
Shane said he always felt Gippsland was “home” and now intended specialising in GP training after his residency, then working in Gippsland.
Andrew Thomas from Churchill attended Kurnai College.
Currently living in Moe, he joined the navy and was a navigator for 12 years when he also wanted a career change.
The navy is putting him through medical school and on completion, he will serve five years as a navy doctor before returning to the country as a GP. “It will be either Gippsland or regional Western Australia where my partner is from,” he said.
“I saw the opportunity to return home to study through Monash’s School of Rural Health as a major bonus. I love this area. And when I fulfil my obligation to the navy, the country is where we want to be.”
According to Andrew, working at LRH gave him the opportunity to be “actually involved” in a variety of situations which broadened his training.
Danielle Winkelman attended Morwell Park Primary School then Kurnai College in Morwell. Because her ENTER score was not high enough for direct entry into medicine, she chose a science degree at Melbourne University with the plan to transfer to a medical degree.
“It was then (after completing the science degree) I heard that Monash University was opening the medical school at Churchill so I had an interview for the first course entry and took a year off while waiting for the school to open,” she said. “I didn’t like Melbourne and couldn’t wait to get back to the country.”
Danielle agreed with her fellow resident doctors that experience in a major regional hospital exposed young medical students to more opportunities.
“I did several placements in metro hospitals and felt like a potted plant – just sitting in the corner, growing and watching,” she said. “I have been fortunate to work at hospitals in Wonthaggi, Sale, Heyfield as well as LRH. You just don’t get that hands-on opportunity (in the city) and I loved it.”
Danielle, who currently lives in Newborough, has 12 week old twin girls. She returns to LRH in August after maternity leave, planning to apply for GP training next year. “I want to work in this area when I am finished,” she said.