Old Girl and Orthopaedic Principal House Officer at Cairns Hospital, Dr Helena Franco (Class of 2012), recently spoke to some of our Senior Years students considering a career in medicine.

Helena recently won one of two prestigious RG Menzies Scholarships to study a Master of Medical Sciences in Global Health Delivery at Harvard Medical School — an exceptional achievement indicative of the hard work she has dedicated to her career.

Helena's medical career began when Somerville House Science staff organised for her to work one afternoon a week on a Mater Medical Research Institute research project. She graduated from Bond University with their Young Alumna Award for outstanding voluntary service, exemplary student leadership and excellence in academic and professional pursuits.

Helena told Senior Years students what they ought to do in preparation to get into a university medical course straight after secondary school. She encouraged the girls to use their final stages of schooling to learn how to study effectively and find the best study techniques for them — be it visual, audible, typing or writing.

“You have to be very organised, have good time-prioritisation and keep your procrastination in check,” Helena said.

"I think it’s important to have a mentor – someone who is in medicine and can talk about their experience at medical school to see if it’s something you can imagine yourself doing,” she said.

Having completed a University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) preparation course, Helena spoke about what our students can work on in preparation for the the test, took them through some practice questions and offered strategies to work them out. She also spoke about the universities that offer medicine, their various application processes, what questions to expect at interviews and her personal experience studying medicine.

“I really enjoyed it. I decided pretty quickly that I was interested in surgery, so I did some work with a few surgical associations and attended some really interesting conferences,” Helena said.

“You get incredible opportunities to go overseas and do electives, typically in your final years of medical school,” she said.

“I did two electives — one to Yale in Newhaven and one to Cambridge over in the UK where I got to hear Stephen Hawking give his last public presentation before he passed away.”

Before opening up the conversation for student questions, Helena shared what it is like to work as a doctor.

“It is genuinely a very enjoyable job to have,” Helena said.

“If you want to do it for the right reasons, you will have a very good time, but you’ve got to sit down and think about whether it's what you really want to do,” she said.

“It relies very heavily on communication, and you have to deal with some very difficult situations with compassion, care and accurate information. You have to tell people horrible news, but medical school teaches you how to have those conversations.”

“I'm on a week-off week-on schedule with nights at the moment, and we had a horrible multi-trauma on Sunday night. I don’t think it ever gets easier to tell people that their loved one has passed away. It's not an easy conversation to have, but you’ve got to be able to separate yourself from work,” Helena said.

“[Hospitals] are incredibly social and collegial environments. You make a lot of friends and have colleagues with really interesting stories about how they got into medicine,” she said.

Helena ended her talk by stressing the importance of balance in studying, encouraging the girls to allocate time to competing priorities such as extracurricular activities, personal time and spending time with friends and family.