For James Barrett, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Queensland, the journey towards a career in general practice has been an unconventional route.
James graduated from high school in 2009 without an OP, telling his mother the same day that he would never go back to learning again as he disliked school so much.
However, much to James’ initial disgust, his mother took the initiative to enrol him into a Certificate IV in Fitness – and the rest, as they say, is history.
“From the start, I found that I really enjoyed the introduction to the anatomy physiology aspect of the course,” James explains.
“I also had a few trial sessions with a personal training client who wanted to get back to running, and I really enjoyed the rehab work and helping her to achieve that.
“I also probably owe a lot to UQ Rugby Club, as I was hanging around with university students and started to recognise that university and learning wasn’t all bad.
“I think these were all big contributing factors in my decision to pursue a career in medicine.”
His path, however, has been far from straightforward.
James went on to complete a degree in Health Science at UQ, graduating in 2014, however failed in many attempts to pass his Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT).
Frustrated, James ended up moving to England with his now wife where he worked in a hospital in Cheltenham as a healthcare assistant.
“Working with the doctor there definitely cemented my desire to get into medicine,” he said.
“Although passing GAMSAT continued to elude me upon returning to Australia, I studied Paramedic Sciences at QUT and graduated in 2018, before finally passing GAMSAT in 2019.”
Despite the hurdles, James’s perseverance paid off when he received offers from both UQ Medicine and the Queensland Ambulance Service.
“I was lucky enough to get offered a rural position in Warwick as a paramedic, and UQ allowed me to defer a year to gain some rural healthcare experience prior to starting Medicine in 2021,” he said.
“I was lucky enough to work all over Darling Downs in that year before starting my Medicine degree, so I really grew to love working in rural areas.”
For James, the allure of general practice lies in the vast opportunities it presents, particularly in rural settings.
“I mostly love the idea of rural generalist practice,” he said.
“I like that the variety is open to you in that setting and that you have a much broader set of skills.
“I love the acute care that I have learnt from Medicine and paramedics, but also love the less acute diagnosis type process of being in general practice.”
Balancing the rigours of medical school with financial constraints and personal commitments hasn’t been without its challenges.
“It’s hard at times trying to work and study, but I’ve tried to treat my paramedic work as a learning experience, which now benefits me a great deal as a medical student,” he said.
“My wife has had to support us through the last three years as we have gone from my full-time income as a paramedic to mostly just her income as a seal and penguin trainer, while still maintaining a home loan.
“However, I’m excited to go in each day and learn about that area of medicine, and every day I feel that I have made the right choice.”
James remains steadfast in his vision of the future – a future that sees him as a rural generalist, armed with a wealth of experience and a commitment to providing equitable healthcare access to all.
“Hopefully, [I’ve] gained a FACRRM and [am] working in a rural hospital, maybe in Darling Downs,” he said.
As he navigates medical school, James remains grateful for the support and camaraderie offered by organisations like GPSN, which have provided invaluable guidance and mentorship along the way.
“It was good signing up to GPSN in my first year and going to events to meet like-minded people, and it was good to hear about pathways to becoming a GP,” he said.
As James continues to chart his course towards a career dedicated to rural healthcare, his persistence in achieving his dreams should inspire all future medical students.