Gap Medics alumni profile: Kate GuntherJune 15, 2016
Pathology and anatomy student Kate Gunther travelled with us to Croatia in January 2016 – a 30-hour trip that changed her life forever!
“When I finished high school, I was absolutely sure I wanted to take a gap year and figure out if I wanted to study medicine at university. I had done a lot of research about opportunities to experience the life of a doctor first hand, and decided after countless hours of internet searching that Gap Medics offered me the best opportunity to really explore what being a physician was really about. The amount of support offered in organizing the placement, the base-house and staff care were all really desirable, but it was the feedback from other students who had gone on placements which really won me over.
However, after I actually finished school I found it really hard to find a job, and, scared I would end up spending my gap year doing nothing but sitting on my butt, I accepted the first university offer I received and started studying science. After really disliking my first year and a half of classes, and learning the hard way what I did and didn’t find interesting, I decided to take a semester off and do a ‘gap semester’ instead. I revisited the Gap Medics site and was again blown away by the opportunities available to me, and within an hour, my placement was booked.”
“I live just outside of Sydney, Australia in the beautiful Blue Mountains, and after a two-hour drive to the airport, I spent 30 hours travelling solo to Zagreb, Croatia. The plane travel was long and really hard- my body had no idea what time it was, I was living off airplane food and I had no one to talk to. The stopovers at Hong Kong and Doha were the only opportunity I had to talk to my family and friends via the internet, and I was starting to wonder if I had made a big mistake. This worry completely dissipated when I landed in Zagreb, though. I was sitting in an aisle seat and trying to crane my neck to see land for the first time in a long time. After spending a month in the hot Australian summer, and having never seen real snow before, I was beyond excited at the vast white planes underneath me. The couple sitting next to me noticed, and asked where I was from. They lived in Croatia, and were travelling home. They smiled at me and said, ‘Welcome!’, and I immediately felt at home. I stayed in Zagreb for two nights and had an amazing time just exploring the city and getting used to the new climate and time zone before I jumped on a 5-hour bus to Pula.”
“My placement in Pula General Hospital can’t really be accurately conveyed in words. Phrases like ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘wicked-cool’ and ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ come to mind, but don’t really capture it all. It was such a privilege and genuine pleasure to have the opportunity to see healthcare first-hand as someone with no clinical training, and something I was very grateful to be able to do. My average day was really different depending on the department I was working in, but in three weeks I really managed to pack so much in! In Obstetrics and Gynecology, it was regular for me to be meeting patients for ultrasounds and pregnancy checkups, or surgical ovarian cyst removals, hysterectomies and abortions. I also had the incredible honor of watching two live births- seeing a new life delivered into the world and that new person take their first breath is something I will never forget!
When I was in Radiology, my average day was much different- I got the chance to analyse CT and X- ray scans, and was given the opportunity to perform sonograms on patients, too. Having a trained professional say that you’re a ‘complete natural’ and trust you to find the major organs of a real-life patient is something I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to do. My time in General/Abdominal Surgery really cemented in me that this is what I want to do with my life. I had the chance to observe cholecystectomies, inguinal and abdominal hernia repairs, colectomies, tumor and mole removals, and even a hip replacement. The energy in the air, and the friendliness of the staff who would dance along to the radio music with me in theatre made it an environment I felt so completely at ease in, and I was absolutely itching to grab a scalpel myself.”
“After a long day in hospital I would often lazily catch the bus home instead of walking and sit around the house talking to the other students, comparing our days and swapping stories. These people really quickly became a new little family for me, and I’m really grateful that we went through the experience together. In my first week, I was the only Aussie in the house, with three girls from America who would laugh at the way I said ‘tomato’ and were horrified at my Vegemite toast in the morning. After these lovely ladies left, I had more Australians join me, and we even got to share Australia Day together- I tried to make it feel a little more like home by making a pavlova, but my atrocious Croatian skills meant I mixed up the sugar and salt packet and made a very salty dessert instead! We always had things at the house to keep us occupied, and in my short stay I became really good at Jenga and not-so-great at Pictionary. The Global Health Tutorials – where we would have local health professionals give a presentation on different health issues- were really interesting for me, and Dr. Rozman’s speech on organ donation really inspired me to make a difference on my home front.
Whilst the hospital placement was undeniably amazing in every way, it is these people that I will remember most about my time in Croatia. The other students I shared this crazy and life-changing experience with are now dear friends, and having them by my side (particularly my partner-in-crime of a roommate) both at the hospital and our adventures across the Croatian countryside truly made my experience. The mentors gave me so much confidence in myself and my passion for healthcare that a career in this field seemed actually attainable for the first time. The Gap Medics staff made the house feel like a home, and having people chat to you and ask you how your day was (here’s looking at you, PJ) or make you the best scrambled eggs for breakfast and homemade dinner (Marin), to even telling you about the best nightlife and pizza spots or take you to watch a game of handball (Lejla, Natasha and Sandi) really made all the difference and is, in my opinion, what places Gap Medics above other placement opportunities.”
Life after my placement
“The day after I returned to Australia, I was back in university classes. To my surprise, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my neuroscience classes, something I was intending to major in for my degree. I swiftly dropped the classes and changed my major, which altered the direction my degree was taking me, but is something I’m ultimately really excited about. I’m now completing a major in Pathology to accompany my Anatomy major, and spend my days at university learning about the human body and different ways it can break down due to disease. I have started volunteering at the Museum of Human Disease on campus, and teach school students and the general public about their own bodies and how to look after them, as well as some weird and whacky diseases that can affect the body. I’ve completed a short course through my university about global health challenges, including things like refugee health and female genital mutilation. Outside of university classes, I’m currently working through an online module on kidney transplantation, and am beginning volunteer work with the Organ and Tissue Donation Services in my state. Most of all, I’m planning (and budgeting) for my next placement, and am hoping to get some more hospital experiences before finishing my degree and applying for graduate-entry medicine.
To anyone who is even remotely thinking about a career in healthcare, or a Gap Medics program- I can only passionately recommend it. It has changed the trajectory of my life and career, and taught me so much about my skills and, ultimately, myself.”
Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.