Humans of Medicine – Jack Gerrard

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.



Humans of Medicine – Florence Ho

Tell us a bit about yourself.  

I’m Flo, and I’m currently a final year med student. Outside medicine, I’m a violinist, I enjoy exploring the Melbourne food scene, playing board games and travelling during my breaks. Some of my favourite places that I’ve been include Spain, the south of France, Vietnam (for the food) and Japan . 

Tell us about some of your experiences outside of the academics of medicine. 

I’ll probably start with MMO, where I was 1st year rep, pre-clin rep, then co-chair. Being Co-Chair of MMO was my first experience of leading a team where there wasn’t any direct supervision above me; where I was responsible for the decisions that would make things happen. It also allowed me to continue playing violin, which was a pretty major aspect of my life before med. I’m really grateful for the role that music has played in my life – from learning how to practise and persist through challenges, to meeting new friends!

I then wanted to put my hand up for a role that engaged with a wider proportion of the cohort, which led me to apply for 4th year academic rep in 2018, and then academic VP of MUMUS  in 2019. Having these roles was an invaluable experience for me in terms of advocating for a large student base, and I had the privilege of working alongside a wonderful group of motivated student reps. 

Last year, I was looking to try something a bit different, to see how I would fare in a new environment. At the time, a management consulting firm was calling for applications for one of their scholarship and internship programs, and I decided to apply. I was fortunate enough to receive the scholarship, and this gave me the opportunity to do something that was not directly related to medicine, but would contribute towards developing skills that would be useful in my future career. 

Was your internship experience different to what you expected it to be? 

I went into this internship expecting to do something completely different, which I certainly got. I think knowing that I could work in an environment that was pretty foreign to me has helped my confidence. What I wasn’t expecting was the emphasis on individual working styles and communication. There was emphasis on personal development; on how you get something done rather than just getting something done. I also wasn’t expecting to encounter their style of feedback – it’s really great that they have ‘upwards feedback’ built into the culture of the company, where feedback from more junior members of the team is actively encouraged by the more senior members. 

If time and money weren’t an issue, what would your ideal side hustle be? 

I’d love to run a cafe where smartphones are banned! I’d want it to be a space for people to go so they can switch off from work and social media, absorb their surroundings, and just chat to someone they’re with or someone new.  It would be very aesthetically pleasing with good food, of course, but ultimately a space where you could avoid outside distractions. 

What would the colour scheme be? 

Either pastels or white! 

Is there an issue within medicine that you wish could change? 

I don’t know if I have enough authority to speak on issues within systemic medicine, but something I’ve noticed within medical school is the attitude to fixate on a certain specialty pathway or end-career goal, and gearing everything towards achieving that . This often defines every choice made, from choosing which hospital to intern at, to what research to get involved in, and what extracurricular societies to join. 

I can’t comment on whether or not this mentality is helpful to getting us  to our end goals, but I do think it can be a very stress-inducing culture. This hyper-competitive attitude, and I think a lot of my peers would agree, can be damaging towards student mental health and detracts from the enjoyment of medical school and life in general. I’ve definitely fallen into this mindset from time to time – and I’m not convinced that this tunnel vision is the healthiest way to approach med school.

What is your advice to all the medical students who have fallen victim to this culture?

I think the opportunities that I’ve enjoyed the most throughout medical school, have been those which have a clear purpose, allow me to learn and gain skills, and are in an area that I’m genuinely interested in. My advice on that thread would be to not spread yourself too thin, and to engage in activities that you actually want to do. I feel like the culture in med school makes it very easy to compare one aspect of your life or your achievements to that aspect of another person’s life, for example with leadership roles or research papers.  I don’t have the answer to escape this mindset – it’s something I definitely also fall into. I would say, however, that sharing and vocalising this reminds me that these thoughts are common and I am not alone. So I guess my overall, my advice would be to talk openly with friends about any stresses, try to run your own race and focus on what you want to get out of your 20s! 

If anyone wants to have a chat about anything, I’m more than happy for people to get in contact with me 🙂 


Humans of Medicine Issue #1 Featuring: Maya Moses

Welcome to our inaugural addition of Humans of Medicine!

Our first featured human is a 4C medicine student, a pro-vaccination advocate and a previously unvaccinated teen – Maya Moses


Tell us a bit about yourself

I grew up in Mullumbimby, which you may recognise as being number 1 on that list of “places with the lowest rates of vaccination in Australia” that always seems to be in lectures about vaccines. It is a very alternative area, which has some really awesome aspects to it, like being very socially progressive and ahead of the curve on environmentalism. It does have some really negative aspects like measles outbreaks and giving us Iggy Azalea.

Despite the sometimes science-sceptical nature of people in my hometown, I’ve always been very drawn to it, and rational explanations for things. I’m a very firm believer that a scientific explanation always makes something more interesting and magical, rather than detracting from it. Ironically the only science I didn’t do at school was biology, and I got really queasy during the dissections you do in like year 9 or 10. Somehow, I just decided in about year 11 that I wanted to be a doctor and applied for Biomed at Monash.

I would say at the time it was a pretty arbitrary decision when I made it, but I really love medicine and find it super interesting. You can take it in a lot of directions which I appreciate. There is always more to learn which is kind of awful and amazing at the same time.

Tell us about your vaccine journey

So, at the time I was born my parents were pretty much only exposed to anti-vax rhetoric and so didn’t know much better. When I was a year old I got whooping cough, and thankfully my parents reconsidered their views. You might think that’s how anyone would react, but I do have friends who had the same experience as me, and their parents are still vehemently anti-vax.

My brother, who is 10 years younger, got vaccinated and at the time my parents attempted to start catching me up on vaccines. I, however, was resistant to it because I was afraid of the needles. The first vaccines I got properly were the ones you get in high school.

I remember always being pro-vax, but I was a bit slow to get them done because of my mild needle-phobia, and the costs associated with it. But I did need to get them done for medicine and that gave me the final push. It was surprisingly a lot more confusing to navigate than I had expected.

Why do you think some people are against immunisation?

Some people – your tinfoil hat types – are pretty much against anything mainstream. I think these people are the most vocal, but also the minority. I believe most people are just scared, and if you’re scared and uncertain about a particular action it is easier to not do, than to do. A lot of fear mongering and very biased “science” from strong anti-vaxxers creates this hesitancy.

It’s easy to think “the truth is so obvious, how can’t they see it”, but a lot of people don’t learn how to navigate scientific evidence and filter out which sources are reliable. A lot of people don’t really know things like dose-response, or relative risk, or risk-benefit analysis so they’re much more prone to believing the misinformation around vaccines.

How do you think we as future doctors can help get people vaccinated?

Educate them! And do it nicely and respectfully. If you talk to an anti-vax parent and act like you know what’s best for their child, and they don’t, they won’t ever listen. It doesn’t really matter how right you are, if you can’t communicate it effectively.

But also educate yourself, be prepared to answer the questions people have, and know how to help someone get vaccinated if they want to. I had a doctor print off the infant vaccine schedule for me and that was the whole consult – which was useless to me as an adult who had a very short time frame to get vaccinated (before med started).

If there was one thing you would do differently back in first year what would it be?

I think the obvious answer is always “study more”. But really, I’d tell myself to eat better. I get a lot of pleasure from cooking and eating nice food, and I didn’t do that at all for first year. First year is taxing, mentally and physically, and it’s a relatively easy form of self-care. It doesn’t have to be gourmet meals but make it diverse and nutritious if you can.

What advice would you give to first year medical students?

Carrying on from the last question, eat well. But also, find what you enjoy and study that first. Most people never cover all the content, and don’t save what you enjoy until last thinking you should tackle the hard stuff first. You may never get to your favourite parts, and medicine is a marathon – you’ve got to enjoy it.

Also, for graduate entry kids, the staff at Churchill are incredibly supportive if you ever need it. Especially Shane, who is a gem.

What speciality do you want to do?

Radiology! Which people always are shocked by because my strongest skill is usually bedside manner, and not anatomy. I’m actually taking a break this year from my studies and doing some research with the Radiology Research Unit at Alfred Health.

Pineapple on pizza, yes or no?

Definitely yes, pineapple on pizza to the grave.