I can no longer remember when or how I heard about Doctors Without Borders, just that I have always aimed to work for them. Born in 1985, I was too young to really understand BandAid and the Ethiopian famine, but possibly due to media at the time infusing me with a desire to help, I believe I grew up conscious that as an Australian I was more fortunate in the lottery of birth than some. Famine, war and natural disaster were words not part of my vocabulary prior to working in aid, nor for most of my schoolmates in rural Australia. However far starving African children were removed from my daily life, I find to this day I am unable to ignore their reality. Therefore, I decided aged 15 that I wanted to become a doctor, and working internationally always seemed a part of that.
I completed my medical degree and junior level medical positions exclusively in Victorian public hospitals. I also quickly decided to work in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, as this is an area often neglected due to the social taboo surrounding sex, and a lack of female medical practitioners in rural Australia as well as internationally. Although a large amount of my work in the Australian public heath system included working with refugees and minimum income earners, the quality of the health system also means that many of my patients were highly educated middle-income earners. I could take it for granted that patients had received a high school education, had clear running water at home, a roof over their heads, access to social services and moderate to high levels of gender equality. I realised I needed some ‘different’ experience before I could work with MSF.
In preparation for MSF I did two things I worked with Indigenous Australians for six months (often considered experience in a developing context), and I also had two small one-month international deployments with a small Melbourne aid organisation to ensure I didn’t have a naïve, media-glamorised idea of working in a refugee camp. I volunteered with Burmese refugees on the Thai/ Burma border, and later with victims of the Philippine typhoon Bopha in December 2012. Both experiences really drove home the reality of life and living conditions for the larger proportion of inhabitants of this world. Although both trips were only one month long, they have given me a wealth of understanding and vital preparation for a long-term deployment with MSF. For example, no matter how many times people explain culture shock to you, no one can prepare you for just how it feels. I found myself back in Melbourne after the Philippines, horrified at how revealing clothes are and overwhelmed by the variety of perfectly shaped vegetables that were available in the supermarket.
Through all these experiences, no matter “the good, the bad or the ugly,” my desire to work for MSF simply increased. I waited with bated breath to hear from my recruitment officer with a job offer. Pakistan was offered, and after a weekend ringing every contact I had made in aid work for advice, I excitedly accepted! Now, following MSF preparation for pre-departure training, I feel ready for the challenge.