WESTERN Sydney has been given a boost with 151 newly graduated doctors, needed more than ever as we fight COVID-19.
92 of those will train at Westmead Hospital with the rest going to Blacktown and Mt Druitt.
The new doctors’ arrival is “very special, more so this year with our junior medical officers joining our service during a global pandemic,” says Western Sydney Local Health District chief executive Graeme Loy.
“Westmead Hospital is home of Australia’s first-ever COVID-19 patient. Ever since, our district’s ability to respond to the virus has been nothing short of outstanding.
“Our staff are working in state-of-the-art redevelopments at Blacktown, Mount Druitt and Westmead hospitals, which means our JMOs will be learning inside the hospitals of the future.”
One of those new doctors keen to serve the West is 26-year-old local, Melissa Elias, who reveals her career choice is firmly set on saving lives, whatever it takes, after seeing her own sister die from rare cancer.
From her standpoint, losing Gabriella, the profound disability of another sibling, and watching how best medical care was provided to her loved ones, cemented her path to the medical field.
“She fought hard for three years and seeing her go through it made me think I have to definitely go help other people like my sister,” says Melissa of Gabriella’s ordeal.
“It was hard knowing I couldn’t do anything for her [at the time] so I have to pull my socks in no matter how hard it may go.”
Her late sister is Gabriella Wehbe, awarded Parramatta’s Young Citizen of the Year in 2017, who died at 18 years of age the following year. While battling cancer, Gabriella raised more than $400K for the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a cancer treatment centre in Sydney.
Melissa then swapped her pharmacist studies at University of Sydney to join the medical school at Notre Dame University and passed with flying colours.
Last month, after eight years of university training, Melissa joined the other 150 young doctors who started work at hospitals across Western Sydney – at Blacktown, Mount Druitt and Auburn.
Gift that keeps giving
Melissa is also among 1041 junior medical officers NSW Health fielded to major cities and regions for two years to backfill recurring doctors’ shortages as the Coronavirus pandemic continue to put pressure on the health system.
On her third week on duty at Westmead, on alert due to the pandemic, Melissa described her shifts at the orthopaedic surgery unit like a gift that kept on giving, being mentored by skilled surgeons who pass on their valuable knowledge, particularly the care of vulnerable elderly patients separated from family as part of COVID-19 infection control.
“The hardest part is to see the strain on geriatric patients because they haven’t got their families with them, it’s quite sad but we have to follow health advice.
“We are lucky we haven’t come in contact with COVID-19 patients. We all want to see this pandemic go away. We are the luckiest country in the world because we weren’t hit hard unlike America and Europe.”
Later on, Melissa plans to specialise as a general practitioner and paediatrician and work locally around Western Sydney where more doctors are needed.
“But I thought it will be difficult for me to be away from my family and my little sister with disability having to care for her. I come from a large Lebanese family who would love to have me stay here.”
Melissa, who grew up in North Parramatta and completed high school at Our Lady of Mercy, says she prefers to practice locally and become one of the trusted local doctors.
“I am one of seven kids, my husband is one of nine kids, I have 75 first cousins, my mum is one of eight, my dad is one of 10, my husband’s Dad is one of 12, my mother-in-law is one of eight,” she says.
By ELIZABTH FRIAS.
Photo: Young doctor Melissa Elias.