Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Jack, I’m a final year med student, and I’m originally from Cairns. I moved down to Melbourne to complete my last few years of schooling before starting my studies at Monash. This move exposed me to a variety of new challenges and gave me the opportunity to personally develop in the sport of swimming. Whilst medicine and swimming take up most of my time, I’m currently enjoying working together with an amazing team in my role of Convenor for the Australasian Students’ Surgical Conference. In my spare time, I love relaxing in the sun at the beach or exploring the outdoors with friends.
How did you get into swimming?
The climate in Cairns is very different to that of Melbourne! It’s pretty much always summer in Far North Queensland, so swimming is one of the most popular sports up there. Like most Australians, I learnt to swim whilst also learning to walk, and after learning the basics I loved everything about it. I enjoyed the challenge of it, being able to spend time with my squad, and having something to do after school – it was an awesome way to balance life.
When I was 9, I started competing. I still remember these three really talented kids in my age group that I would compete against, and I was always the fourth kid who was chasing their tails. Gradually, I found ways to improve my technique, fitness and resilience with the help of my coach at the time. Slowly but surely, this allowed me to move onto state competitions, and eventually Nationals.
Did it feel different swimming in Melbourne?
Moving down to boarding school at 15 was a big adjustment for me. The whole experience at Melbourne Grammar was definitely more intense than the slower pace of life up in Cairns. On top of that, I was riddled with injuries for about five years, which meant that although I was still able to compete at various National Championships, I wasn’t physically and mentally performing at my best. It wasn’t until I was able to find a balance between training and studying medicine, that my swimming really improved. I love the feeling of being in the water, and I find swimming to be a great outlet after a long day of studying or placement in hospital.
Did you ever find it challenging balancing both?
For sure. In some ways the academically stimulating nature of medicine and the physical demands of swimming complement each other well. However, international competitions required considerable travel, which made it very difficult to combine sport and study. Towards the end of my second year, at a time when year two still counted towards the infamous z-score, I made a squad that was going to the US Open. I knew it was poor timing but I decided to go for it anyway. The event was the largest meet I had competed in at the time, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to race against Michael Phelps. I ended up missing over two weeks of course content that I had to cram upon return – definitely not a fun way to end my pre-clinical years. That experience was formative in making me realise that I wanted to take time away from study the following year for the 2016 Olympic Games. Otherwise, I was going to end up disappointed with both my academic performance in medicine and my performances in the pool.
What was 2016 like for you?
I was fortunate enough to have a really good performance at the Australian Olympic Trials before the 2016 Rio Olympics, but unfortunately missed out on the 100m freestyle team by half a second. It was disappointing at the time, but I was motivated to continue with the momentum that I had built, so for the rest of the year, I competed in a series of World Cup swimming competitions. At the end of the year, I had the opportunity to represent Australia as part of the World Championships team. Being able to wear the green and gold was amazing; a childhood dream come true.
Tell us about one of your most memorable swimming experiences.
I was fortunate enough to represent Australia again at the 2018 World Championships in China, which was a surreal experience. It was the final evening of the event and there were over 11,000 people in the Hangzhou ‘Little Lotus’ stadium. I remember hopping onto the block for one of the legs of the relay, where Australia was competing against the USA, China, Russia and Brazil. As the third swimmer, I was racing against Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, who was a huge crowd favourite. The top teams were all within a second of each other and as I prepared to dive in, the crowd roar was so loud that my ears began to ring. The energy in the stadium was like nothing that I had ever experienced before.
So, where to now with your swimming?
At the start of March, I would have said that my plan was to cut half a second from my freestyle time to try and make the Australian Olympics team this year. Reflecting on my training and preparation at that point, I felt that I was certainly making good progress. It’s hard to say what will happen with coronavirus now, but regardless, I’m looking forward to my internship next year. I’ve dedicated more than 15,000 hours over the last 15 years or so to swimming, and have learnt a lot about myself through the sport. Whilst I’ll always enjoy swimming, my true passion lies in medicine and I cannot wait to commit my energy to a challenging but fulfilling and rewarding career.
Tell us about your exchange.
When I was made aware that the elective rotation in final year had been replaced with a research component for MD students, I was keen to obtain exposure to a different healthcare system. I decided to apply for an exchange with Harvard Medical School. I wanted to gain insight into their incredible innovation and technology as well as experience a different healthcare system that faced its own unique difficulties.
I ended up being placed at the Boston Children’s Hospital as part of the paediatric surgery team, and really enjoyed it. There were 30 operating rooms running every day, and patients would not only fly in from all across America but also from the Middle East, China and other parts of Asia. The Boston Children’s Hospital was located within the Longwood Medical and Academic Area, which was a mini city of innovative medicine and technology. I really enjoyed the culture of inclusivity and the dynamic learning environment. Considering the hospital was neighboured by Harvard Medical School, I was fortunate to be able to study on campus and meet medical students who I am still in touch with today.
If time and resources weren’t an issue, what is something you wish you could invent?
Something that I am passionate about is the interaction between medicine and our environment, specifically when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of medical waste. I became aware of the magnitude of this problem as a third year student on a surgical rotation, where every single drape and many instruments would be discarded after each procedure. While disposability is time efficient and allows all equipment to be sterile, it isn’t sustainable, and in future I’d like to conduct research into creating cost effective, reusable equipment.
What is one issue within medicine that you wish you could change?
Australia is fortunate to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world. I don’t want to come out as an expert as to where we should be moving into the future, but I’d like to see more camaraderie, equity and opportunity for everyone in medicine across all specialities. The important role of general practice in primary health care is vital and should never be underestimated.