Sharp Dr Nicole has her eye on a scalpel

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Dr Nicole Rodrigues... “I scrubbed up and spent the day assisting with hip and knee replacement surgery, and I thought it was the best thing ever.” Photo by Andrew Finch
Dr Nicole Rodrigues… “I scrubbed up and spent the day assisting with hip and knee replacement surgery, and I thought it was the best thing ever.” Photo by Andrew Finch

CANBERRA Hospital junior medical officer Nicole Rodrigues has aced the Generic Surgical Sciences Examination and is the first person from the ACT and the ANU to achieve the top place.

Nicole won the Gordon Gordon-Taylor medal, which is awarded to the candidate who gets the highest marks in each sitting of the examination.

The Generic Surgical Sciences Examination is mandatory for all junior medical officers wanting to get on to the surgical education and training pathway, and is designed to ensure that prospective surgical applicants have a standard of knowledge in the surgical sciences.

Nicole, 29, is in her second year out of medical school and is hoping to get a role as a general surgery unaccredited registrar at the Canberra Hospital next year.

“I was quite happy with my result when it first came out, comparing it to what others had got, but I didn’t expect it to be the highest mark,” she says.

“Preparing for the exam had been quite stressful, with studying at night after 12-hour days at the hospital. It’s an intense exam over two days, covering anatomy on the first day and pathology and physiology on the second. It’s known to be quite difficult.

“I actually found out officially that I had won the award after a night shift when I woke up and checked my emails, so it was a nice surprise.

Nicole says that throughout her studies, starting with her undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics at Sydney University, working in surgery has been what makes her happiest.

“During my rotations I found I was fascinated by the surgical and medical side of things. That prompted me to apply to medical school at ANU.”

Nicole says she still wasn’t 100 per cent set on surgery, but in her third year, on her first day at her surgical rotation in orthopedics, her supervisor brought her into theatre and, she says, it was a strong experience that convinced her that surgery was what she wanted to do.

“I scrubbed up and spent the day assisting with hip and knee replacement surgery, and I thought it was the best thing ever,” she says.

“I’ve been drawn towards general surgery, and being in the operating theatre is my happy place, so it would be nice if I could do that for the rest of my life.

“I’ve enjoyed being on rotations and taking care of patients, and I like how surgery can make a big difference to people’s lives quite quickly. You can get straight in and fix the problem, and when they wake up they feel so much better.”

Nicole says that as a junior on the team, she is mostly in charge of the day-to-day patient care on the wards.

“I want to learn how to operate, but the main thing is making sure the patients are safe, comfortable and getting better,” she says.

Nicole says that her interest is in general surgery, and while it may be too early to say where she might like to sub-specialise, she says she has an interest in upper GI, endocrine, thyroid, head and neck and transplant surgery.

Passing the Generic Surgical Sciences Examination is the first step to being able to apply for surgical training. Nicole says that with a four-year undergraduate degree under her belt, followed by four years of medical school, and a year or more of internships, she is hoping to embark on the long path of up to 10 years of surgical training.

“It’s a lot of hard work and long hours,” Nicole says. “My husband knows I’m at the hospital more than I’m at home but he understands and he’s supportive of my work.

“I keep the finish line in mind, and that inspires me to keep going, because it’s a long road ahead.”


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Kathryn Vukovljak
Kathryn Vukovljak is a "CityNews" journalist with a particular interest in homes and gardens.

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