Student
Student

How a death in custody sparked a medical dream

One of James Cook University's brightest students has been recognised for her dedication to medicine with a national bursary to help with her studies.

Torres Strait Island student Joanne Kaczmarek won the bursary from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Having worked for the Australian Public Service for 10 years in Townsville, Canberra and in overseas postings, Joanne had originally studied commerce, majoring in accounting.

"I was sitting on a beach on Nauru in the Pacific approaching the end of my diplomatic posting there and I was thinking about what the next step was going to be," she said.

"Part of that was coming home to Townsville, I wanted to come home to do something here but didn't really know what.

Torres Strait Island student Joanne Kaczmarek, pictured with Pro Vice Chancellor, Indigenous Education and Strategy, Prof Martin Nakata, won the medical student bursary by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.
Torres Strait Island student Joanne Kaczmarek, pictured with Pro Vice Chancellor, Indigenous Education and Strategy, Prof Martin Nakata, won the medical student bursary by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.

"I took some time off, did some thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and I realised that health has always been of interest to me, it's something I've always ­followed."

But the 38-year-old's jump into medicine at JCU came after hearing the story of Miss Dhu, an Indigenous woman who died in police custody in Western Australia in 2014.

Miss Dhu died of complications caused by septicaemia, with a health campus dismissing her complaints during three days in custody.

That led to Joanne wanting to make a difference in Indigenous health, realising that while Miss Dhu lost her life under police custody, it was in fact the health system that had let her down.

Torres Strait Island student Joanne Kaczmarek won the medical student bursary by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.
Torres Strait Island student Joanne Kaczmarek won the medical student bursary by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. PICTURE: MATT TAYLOR.

Now at the three-year halfway mark of her degree, Joanne heads into the clinical years of doing work placements and hopes to stay in rural areas with the goal to return to the Torres Strait to practise as a GP.

"I've learnt to be really resourceful, some of the postings I've been on overseas are not what you'd consider the cushy diplomatic ones, I'm drawn to the challenge of a difficult place or resource constraints," Joanne said.

"I do feel like it's a calling. Is it easy? No, it's a lot of hard work but I think when you know what you want to do the hard work doesn't seem so hard and that's key to making any big change."

Originally published as How a death in custody sparked a medical dream


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