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Bounce Back with Waheeda Sarwari

Throughout high school I had one goal in mind: become a doctor.


As a child, my parents always asked me what interested me in particular. And always, I only had one answer in mind: medicine. Naively, I had this idea of doctors to be people who helped. I knew nothing about medicine and what it entailed. But it was a goal, and to meet a goal that entailed a lot of hard work, I pushed myself. With this major goal, I had to first cross the minor boundaries of doing well at school as well as UMAT.


During high school, we all start to go through this “burnout phase”, where even if you’re a hard working or smart person, you become exhausted and that’s where the self-motivation and skills help you push through those years.


I was lucky enough during high school to be put into Stephen’s class at Chalkwall. Not so much for the content of teaching the maths – but how he psychologically fine tuned me to be able to drive myself to success. He was that person that gave me the motivation and skills to keep on going, and would constantly tell me that I can do it.


So, I began to believe it. If I tell myself I can, no one else can tell me I can’t.


Not many tutoring services offer focus on students’ personal skillsets. At the end of the day, you can teach students as much as you want, but if there’s no motivation or self-determination then it’s not going to work for that particular individual.


I went from the bottom of the class in Maths by Year 10 to completing Extension 1 and 2 Maths in Year 12. With the level of maths that I had mastered, I thought that I was able to combat the problem-solving questions found in the UMAT. So when I sat UMAT in Year 12 and didn’t get the results that were required, it was devastating.


Having planned my whole life on this one goal, and realising that it wasn’t going to be simple… I found it hard to adjust to a new game plan.


But I had to keep going.


I decided to study pharmacy: it was a degree that would give me patient exposure and knowledge of the drugs I would be aware of as a doctor. I was irritated that I had to go through this pathway though – medicine was always on my mind.


In my first year of pharmacy, I studied to sit the UMAT again. The irritation, mixed with the determination I had, allowed me to push forward and try again.

So, again, it was quite surprising when I got set back again with a poor result.

After working with St Vincent’s Hospital and at Chalkwall, I realised I liked talking to people. This was furthered when I started working at a community pharmacy where I could pick up on my patients’ issues but felt like I had to refer them to someone else. It dawned on me as to why I wanted to be a doctor.


I sat the UMAT for a third time, in my second year of university. I didn’t do well again, but I was re-inspired. I had always known medicine was something I wanted to do, but I then figured out why I wanted to do it; at that point, my dream had a replenished purpose.


I had a few failures, I can attest to that. But each one helped me get back up again.


You can’t do super well all the time unless you’re a brilliant born genius. At those moments, how you get back up again is a hard skill and I think it’s something you never stop learning. You learn different skills at different stages of your life that help you.


In third year, while I knew medicine was something I wanted, I had to sit GAMSAT. But my score was poor – again.


I tried again in fourth year and by then I had prepared even more. I looked up how other people did it and utilised their skills, what was expected of me in the examination. By the end of fourth year, I was determined. Before the results were released, I applied for the University of Notre Dame with a personal statement and my current university results.


I had a lot of faith. It’s one of the main things that kept me going – I knew every time I failed, God had something better for me.


I got a position in medicine at Fremantle, Western Australia.


You work so hard and you plan your life with the idea that you’ll study medicine in Sydney. And then you end up with this offer that puts you across the country with your parents here, with a mortgage to pay. The decision didn’t come easily; my brother made the sacrifice to move with me interstate.


Moving to Fremantle was another challenge. I always had this personal responsibility to do well so I can provide for my family. My dad has a disability, my mum is a housewife and I am the eldest child with 3 other siblings. I worked so hard to get into this course, but once I was in, I loved what I was studying but there was too much financial and mental stress. It was something I hadn’t faced before and it was tough – I spent days crying. The degree is a high volume of work with a really short period of time to get through it all. I guess that in itself to be able to cope as well and balance time management.


They say it’s impossible to transfer medical schools. But I didn’t lose faith – I told myself there is always a chance. After speaking to my university, it was a matter of getting good marks and filling out an application as to why you want to come back home. There was a 1% chance for my application to be accepted, and the university told me not to hold onto hope.


I was one of the 1% that was able to transfer back to my family.

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