As students poured out of The Great Hall at the University of Sydney, few in the crowd would have realised three graduates were taking the final steps in a shared journey 20 years in the making.
Kiama raised, Ann Lee, Gary Louie and Haisley Formosa, all completed Kindergarten through to year 12 together, at the now closed Kiama Infants School to Kiama Public School, before they were part of Kiama High School’s graduating class of 2011.
Though not uncommon for students in regional areas to attend the same schools throughout primary and secondary education, the similarities don’t stop there.
The trio then went on to complete undergraduate bachelor degrees in Sydney, before being accepted into medicine at the University of Sydney.
In December they completed the four year Doctor of Medicine (MD) program, graduating as doctors.
“The three of us were friends from primary school through to high school, and it's been wonderful having each other over the last four years, and an honour to graduate alongside each other,” Miss Formosa said.
“Funnily enough, Ann, Gary and I were all in the same kindergarten class, and various classes throughout the years.”
The three recently started their placements as junior doctors, which will be ongoing for the next two years.
Ann Lee, 25, has taken a position at Wollongong Hospital, which will see her make the move back to Kiama after seven years living in the city.
She said her fondest memories from school were from her senior years.
“I was very lucky to have such a great group of friends and fantastic teachers. Everyone was really supportive and encouraging, and we just had a lot of fun too,” she said.
“I loved living in Kiama and being able to head down to the beach or a mate’s place after school and on weekends.
“After moving to Sydney, I realised how lucky I was to have grown up in Kiama!”
Miss Lee’s father is a doctor, so from a young age she witnessed the positive impact medicine can have on other people’s lives.
“I remember when I was in primary school, my Nana and Pa called my Dad one day and asked him to come over to check on them because they weren’t feeling well,” she said.
“I was inspired by how Dad was able to help them and make sure they were okay.
“Medicine is really interesting and it’s amazing how by understanding the human body and various pathologies, you can manage and treat people and improve their lives so much.
“I’m pretty interested in critical care and leaning more towards anaesthetics at this stage.”
Gary Louie, 24, who is an intern at St George Hospital, shared Miss Lee’s sentiments, saying his fondest memories of high school were from his senior years.
“Of course, the Higher School Certificate is a difficult time for students, but it was rewarding to see all that hard work finally pay off,” he said.
“It was made easier as there was a bit of friendly competition between the students to do well, as well as the support from the staff of Kiama High School.
“Kiama was a great place to grow up. I still visit from time to time to escape the city.
“Living in the city for the past couple years has made me appreciate how relaxing Kiama can be, whether it’s visiting the beaches or just walking along the coast.”
Mr Lee said his early visits to his general practitioner helped him develop a passion for medicine.
“When I was young, it was always reassuring to be able to visit the doctors and let them treat you with care and provide a solution to your problem,” he said.
“That and I was always interested in being able to help people and healthcare seemed like the way to go.”
Mr Lee said he was considering pursuing several pathways, based on what he enjoyed during medical school.
“These include surgery, gastroenterology and general practice,” he said.
“That being said, this is really another starting point for us and there’s so many different pathways, so who knows where we’ll end up.”
Haisley Formosa, 25, will call the Central Coast home for the interim, recently commencing work at Gosford Hospital.
She credited the Kiama teachers and a close-knit cohort with providing the platform to do her best in the HSC.
“I think we all took on the mentality that we learn best by teaching each other, and so we fostered a great environment to learn and ask questions without being judged,” she said.
Miss Formosa’s fondest memories of growing up in Kiama included countless trips to the beach with friends.
“With most of us living within walking distance of the beach and each other, it made everything so easy – something I definitely took for granted until I moved out of home!” she said.
“I always looked forward to the annual Kiama Show as well, being involved in the exhibitions and seeing the talent of the local community was great!”
Although she changed her mind about he career throughout high school, Miss Formosa always knew she wanted to attend university.
“I eventually settled on medical science due to my interest in subjects, such as anatomy and pathology,” she said.
“It wasn't until I started university at the University of NSW that I decided it was clinical medicine that I wanted to pursue.
“There were many factors that attracted me to medicine, but no one in my family is medically trained and my parents didn’t receive a tertiary education, so I think it took me longer than some of my peers to find my interest in medicine.
“Although I studied medicine at the University of Sydney, I elected to do my final clinical year at Orange. This enabled me to gain rural exposure, an area of medicine I hope to pursue in my future career.”
Miss Formosa said she hoped to maintain a balanced lifestyle and to continue to learn, as she took the leap into work life.
“Medicine is a career in which learning never stops, so I look forward to continuing my education, with the hopes of commencing the training pathway to become a general practitioner in the future,” she said.
Advice and helpful tips
Miss Lee offered some advice to students wishing to pursue a career in medicine.
“Medicine is incredibly interesting, fun and rewarding,” she said.
“You can either do medicine undergraduate (straight out of high school) or postgraduate (after you complete a university degree).
“I tried for undergraduate and didn’t get in, so decided to go the postgraduate route and was successful in getting a spot. So don’t get disheartened if you don’t get in first try!
“After speaking to many of my friends in medicine, that was the norm!”
She said studying medicine was a “pretty hard slog”, requiring a lot of time and effort.
“I was lucky enough to have two of my close friends from school from the beginning, and made many new great friends throughout my studies,” she said.
“Surround yourself with a solid support network and with a good amount of hard work you’ll get through.”
Mr Louie said for him, medicine was a long and challenging journey.
“Getting into medicine can be difficult, but as long as you have the right drive and determination, you should be able to get into medical school,” he said.
“Next is getting through medical school. It requires a lot of dedication and it definitely gets easier with the support of family and friends. Especially if you have two of your best mates from Kiama.”
Miss Formosa was emphatic with her advice, saying students interested in medicine should “go for it!”
“Postgraduate medicine is very achievable for anyone who puts their mind to it,” she said.
“Focus on subjects that are prerequisites for university science and medical degrees, such as Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. It is a lot of work, so try and surround yourself with a good support network and develop good time management skills early.”