I want it to be normal for rural students to see medicine as a career option.- Steph Hibburt
Steph Hibburt hopes to bridge the gap for access to health in rural and metropolitan areas and is the only student from the south-west to study a new rural medicine course in Bendigo.
Growing up in Timboon and Port Campbell, she sometimes had to travel to Warrnambool and Geelong to access health care.
"I guess as a kid it seemed normal," she said.
Ms Hibburt is studying the rural medical pathway course at La Trobe University which is only open for rural and regional residents. She wants to encourage other regional students to pursue medicine as a career.
"I don't want it to stop at me," she said.
"I want it to be more normal for rural students to see medicine as a career option rather than unachievable. It's something I felt at school and as a country kid that it wasn't something I could do."
Ms Hibburt said it wasn't just about getting good grades to pursue a career in medicine.
"If rural people want to they can study medicine and become doctors," she said.
"As long as you're someone who's really passionate about rural health and determined to make a difference and resilient, it doesn't matter."
Ms Hibburt said when she studied public health as part of her Bachelor of Science at Melbourne University - which she graduated from in 2019 - the disparity between metro and rural health "became obvious".
"If I wanted to see a general practitioner in Melbourne I could just look up online or call a clinic and have an appointment at 3pm that day," she said.
"Whereas in the country simple things like that it's just not possible and you're having to wait longer. Not only does it create a barrier but people just won't access health because it's too hard."
Finding her passion in rural health, Ms Hibburt has another seven years studying to go; she will complete a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and then do another four years with a Doctor of Medicine degree.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2021, she completed Flinders University's Graduate Certificate in Public Health online. When she graduates in 2028, Ms Hibburt hopes to return to the south-west as a rural generalist.
"I think it's really hard for rural families in that situation where there's a lack of specialists," Ms Hibburt said.
"Not only do you have to travel so far but you're away from your family and support network. If I can provide any care closer to home that's something I want to do."
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