Supporting women in medicine

Scholarship recipients often cite the easing of financial stress as a major benefit of their award.

Amy Fitzgerald, a final-year medical student, has other benefits in mind. She was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in her final years of high school, a condition she’s learnt to manage.

She believes her health has improved markedly because she’s a scholarship beneficiary. The extra income from several scholarships enabled her to invest the time and finances towards getting fitter and mentally stronger.

“You can’t do much in your studies if your physical and mental wellbeing is not looked after,” she says. “Being tired and worrying about your finances significantly increases your anxiety levels.

“But since I started studying medicine I’ve been able to manage that a lot better because I’ve been able to do Pilates, yoga and meditation. I wouldn’t have been able to afford those things without the financial help from the scholarships.”

The 27-year-old is a recipient of The Hugh and Eugenie Johnston Scholarship, established through the Will of Mrs Eugenie Johnston to assist needy and deserving medical students. Amy also received the Hilda Gibbons Bursary and financial aid while studying at university.

She worked hard to undertake a medical degree, doing two years of a biomedical science degree before completing a four-year nutrition and dietetics program. Then she successfully applied to do medicine at the University of Melbourne as a postgraduate student.

During her undergraduate years Amy balanced her study commitments with a part-time job at a pharmacy. But the intensive course demands of the Doctor of Medicine meant she had to cease working.

“The scholarships took away the pressure I’d been under to work set hours at the pharmacy,” she says. “It’s removed a layer of financial stress and enabled me to shift my focus on to more proactive things and to prioritise my studies.”

The financial support allowed her to meet her basic needs as a student. It also helped her arrange a training placement at a hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka, treating women from culturally diverse backgrounds – an area of women’s health that interests her.

The generosity and selflessness of bequestors leaving money in their Will for scholarships is incredible. It’s nice to know that you’re being supported by the academic community and by the broader university community through its alumni and generous donors.
Dr Rosalind Terry
Dr Rosalind Terry

Dr Rosalind Terry, 76, is one of those alumni bequestors.

She donates to a fund at the University’s medical school that provides scholarships for female students from rural and regional backgrounds – and she has made provisions in her Will for a percentage of her estate to support student scholarships.

Dr Terry’s personal experiences motivated her to give back and provide opportunities for others. As a young woman in the 1950s she faced enormous family and professional obstacles to enter the male-dominated profession of medicine.

Her father didn’t want her to go to university, but she won a Commonwealth scholarship to study science at the University of Melbourne. She graduated with first class honours in 1961.

She then worked overseas before returning to the University to enrol in medicine in 1969. She became the first female surgical registrar at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney and went on to enjoy an illustrious medical career in hospitals in Australia and New Guinea.

I had been so lucky to get to university, especially because of my father’s attitude towards it.

“My father had said to me that no one in our family had been to university and a girl wasn’t going to be the first one."

“I’m sure there are people today who have similar sorts of attitudes in their families. It’s nice to help those people and other students who deserve a chance to go to university, especially females.”

Dr Terry’s experiences treating patients in New Guinea also influenced the way she felt about equity of opportunity in education. “I saw how difficult it was for people living in country areas to get an education.”

She hopes that more medical graduates will think about leaving a gift in their Will to provide opportunities for future students.

People like me have had a great opportunity to get a university education so I think it behoves us as doctors to think about giving opportunities to future generations.

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