Scholarship a weight off the shoulders for aspiring doctor from Cairns

Demi Cheetham says she encourages other Indigenous students to seek out and apply for such scholarships.

The first in her family to attend university, 25-year-old Demi Cheetham is the 2019 recipient of the House Call Doctor Futures in Health Indigenous Scholarship.

The House Call Doctor Futures in Health Indigenous Scholarship provides $5,000 towards the cost of study.

“I feel incredibly grateful and it is definitely a big relief and a weight off my shoulders. It’s obviously such a privilege, the help that it provides me.”

Miss Cheetham is studying Medicine at the University of Newcastle.

“I have so many dreams and so many things I want to get out of my degree. I have an interest in surgery, which is a specialised area of medicine. I have an interest in providing that service to communities that don’t have the ability to access it when it’s needed.”

“I put high expectations on myself. I want to be a positive role model for my community and for me it is more than the clinical aspects, it is the political and legislative side where you can promote health and bridge the gap,” she said.

Born in northern Queensland, Miss Cheetham left to live in New South Wales when she was 7, and completing her schooling in Albury. After her High School Certificate, she was offered a spot to study medicine at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

“I’d just turned 18 in my first year of medicine at UNSW. I loved it from the beginning, but I don’t think I was mentally or financially capable or ready at that point in my life. It was really hard to do my best and succeed, when the rest of my life wasn’t really put together as well.”

“I stayed at UNSW for three years trying to get through the first two years of the med program. Then, I made the decision to take time away and move back home to Cairns where all my family had relocated. I took three years off. I worked, I travelled the world, I had responsibilities.”

“But I always knew I would go back to medicine. It was my goal to take the couple of years off, get my head straight, then go back,” Miss Cheetham said.

She returned to study at the University of Newcastle (UON) where she is now in her second year. The scholarship was an immense help for Miss Cheetham, making this return a much smoother process.

“Obviously, having to relocate from Cairns where I was and move into a new city. it is quite financially taxing. There’s the cost of living and trying to fit employment with full-time study …”

“I was working between 25-30 hours a week and I was managing but … [now] that financial burden is just lifted. All that financial stress and worry is taken care of, and you can make sure you’re doing the best you can.”

General Manager of House Call Doctor, James Wood, said the organisation recognised the demand for health experts from all walks of life and congratulated Miss Cheetham on her commitment and perseverance.

“We want to thank everyone who applied for the scholarship. Indigenous health professionals account for just 0.3 per cent of our national healthcare workforce and scholarships like this can help increase that number,” he said.

In the next five years, Miss Cheetham hopes she’ll be well on her way in her junior doctor career.

“I’m just so grateful and I encourage all Indigenous people, students to seek out and apply for such scholarships because they are out there and the immense help they can provide you is just awesome.”

Last year’s recipient was single mother of three, Tanaio Anau, who was studying midwifery and living on remote Boigu Island in the Torres Strait.

Scholarship applications for 2020 will open shortly and can be accessed here: https://housecalldoctor.com.au/

By Rachael Knowles

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