Medical Specialist (Anaesthetist in Training)
Grew up in Swan Hill, in Victoria's North-West but calls Melbourne home these days.
In many ways, Nic Cameron is not unlike most young men who have grown-up in Swan Hill, in Victoria’s Mallee region. He’s played plenty of football, his parents run a small-business in the main street and, with only two high-schools in the town, he attended the Catholic one – MacKillop College.
But when you turn to his academic achievements and life since moving away from the rural city, Nic’s pathway could be considered quite different, in an exceptional sort of way. You see, he’s not alone but hardly jostling in a crowd of local students who have gone on to become medical specialists. And in Nic’s case, it wasn’t something he always “knew he wanted to do” but rather something he chose methodically as a studious kid undertaking VCE.
What’s more, Nic’s path to medicine could be displayed as a prime example of what can be achieved when universities work in partnership with rural communities, which is where we begin our chat with our second Rural Inspire Mentor for 2018.
As a student, was there a point where you “realised” what you “wanted to be” or were there other influencing factors that lead you to become an anaesthetist in training?
Well, I knew I wanted to go to university from a very young age - I wanted to do something in either health or business - so I had a look at what school subjects I needed to do as pre-requisites to broadly cover those fields. I then made up the rest of my curriculum with subjects in which I anticipated I could get a good study-score.
In Year 12, a group of doctors and alumni from Monash and Melbourne universities came to Swan Hill to announce the introduction of a side-stream to their undergraduate medicine programs. This side-stream was to become known as the Extended Rural Cohort, and it was aimed at drawing into the program a small group of bright, rural kids from the state’s northwest, annually. They would then spend their clinical years of undergraduate training in regional areas like Bendigo, Mildura and Swan Hill. I was able to get a good enough (ATAR) score to be part of the inaugural group and that’s, essentially, how my career in medicine started.
I really didn’t know what sort of doctor I wanted to be; a GP, surgeon, physician or any other type of specialist, until around halfway through my senior residency, when I realized I wanted to be an anaesthetist. My wife and sister-in-law, both anaesthetists, played a dominant role in this realization. So, once again, I set about achieving my goal and now I am in the final year of specialist training.
You make it all sound quite simple, but we know it’s not. What exactly has it taken to get to your current position?
I completed my Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) in 2011 at Monash University. I then did a Masters in Medicine (pain) in 2014 at Sydney University.
My medical degree was five years with the last three spent at hospitals and medical practices on placement in the bush. I loved my time travelling around Victoria and made friends for life in the process.
As mentioned, I am currently finishing my specialist training. This consists of four years; two sets of exams that require approximately a year of full-time study prior to sitting, a large volume of practice and a certain amount of time spent in other critical-care specialties, such as three months in intensive care.
Stepping back a bit, tell us about where you grew up – what were your hobbies, what was your school like?
My upbringing in Swan Hill was pretty typical; I played a lot of weekend team sport – AFL in the winter and cricket in the summer. Most of my spare time was spent playing video games, watching TV and hanging-out with friends. I went to primary school at St Mary’s and then high school at Mackillop. It (school) wasn’t the highlight of my life, but I certainly didn’t loathe it. In Year 10 I spent a year in Japan on student-exchange, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
What kind of student were you?
I didn’t spend a whole lot of time outside of school studying in junior high school. I had a small group of friends that were all quite competitive in terms of grades, which drove us to do our best. At the end of Year 9, three of them moved from our local school to private schools in Melbourne. It was at this point that I went overseas to Japan for the year and then returned to do VCE.
Compared to the amount of study I have now done for my specialist training, the volume and intensity of study I did for my VCE, and even my university degrees, was quite insignificant. But, on reflection, I was rather studious in high school - for a high school student - particularly at the end of Year 12.
Do you think growing up in a rural area was an advantage or a disadvantage (or both)?
It has its advantages and disadvantages. I was given a good education and afforded every opportunity to excel, without moving to Melbourne to an elite private school, which my parents would have had to pay through the nose for. Having said that, my parents have always been incredibly supportive, both financially and emotionally, so I am happy I have been able to reward their faith.
I believe my upbringing in the country has provided me with a certain level of pragmatism and level-headedness when under pressure, which is invaluable in my line of work.
I am very proud of my country upbringing and am always welcomed back to Swan Hill warmly.
If you could offer one piece of advice to your teenage self, what would it be?
Don’t stress, VCE is a walk in the park compared to what lies ahead.
And what would you say to current teenagers in high-school?
VCE is a game, so play it smart. Decide what you broadly want to do, figure out what you need to do in order to get the score and then move on - that’s when life really begins. If Plan A fails, remember that there is always more than one way to skin a cat.
Speaking of study scores, do you think there is too much pressure on Year 12 school-leavers to achieve a top mark and head-off to university?
To a degree, yes, I do. Kids shouldn’t be pushed into going to university solely for the purpose of 'going to university'. A piece of paper that has no future career aspects and leaves you with a $40,000 HECS debt is futile. But if it (university) helps one figure out what they really want to do in life then university is an invaluable experience.
Do you think there should be greater government assistance to help rural students attend university?
I’m not aware of current government assistance programs, but I was able to get a couple of grants to help with moving out of home, as a first year university student. Such government assistance was quite easy to access online but, I admit, I was fortunate to have incredibly supportive parents who basically gave me a free-ride until I reached internship.
Certainly, I think we should be doing everything possible to facilitate the education of smart and driven kids from the country possibly don’t have the means – or their parents don’t have the means -- to support them away from home (books, technology, accommodation, food, etcetera).