Arshya Pankaj grew up in rural Australia and, encouraged by outreach schemes, is now working to become a doctor.
Having grown up in a remote area of Western Australia, I appreciate university can be a scary and unfamiliar concept to some, but it is important that students understand that their circumstances don’t have to define what they can do. Outreach programs like Aspire WA encourage students to think about their futures with open minds during crucial high school years, and can open doors that may not have been completely open to them before.
I was born in India and moved to Karratha, WA when I was 11, where I attended St. Luke’s College. Aspire UWA visited our school a couple of times and I was fortunate enough to be selected to join one of their camps in Perth. On both occasions, we spoke with university students about the different pathways available to us and that link to higher university education as early as Year 9 was definitely something that helped me keep university in the back of my mind during those early high school years.
I first started thinking of medicine as a career in Year 11 when I found a particular interest in human biology. Unfortunately, the lack of teachers available to teach high-level subjects – such as human biology and Year 12 maths – was a barrier, so I relied on online modes through SIDE (School for Isolated and Distance Education). This was a challenge but, having said that, there was plenty of support from teachers and mentors.
In 2012 I was accepted into the Rural Assured Medical pathway at The University of Western Australia (UWA). I was lucky in that my mum worked in Perth during my last few high school years, so I was able to move in with her and my sister while my dad continued living and working in the Pilbara, flying in on weekends. Even though I had immediate family support, it was difficult initially adjusting to a new city environment and lifestyle. Learning to be self-sufficient in my learning also took some getting used to.
Some of my peers stayed in university accommodation or share houses and had some of the best years of their lives. I almost feel that living with other students during the first year of university is a better way to make friends and explore the social aspect of university. On the other hand, living in student accommodation, and living out of home in general, can be isolating and difficult. It’s important to note that there are financial supports available, which is also something Aspire UWA helps students see as a resolvable barrier.
Aspire UWA had a massive positive impact on my perspective on university. I continued to stay in touch with the Aspire staff and ultimately joined the team as a Student Ambassador. I knew I wanted to be a part of a program that encourages students to consider options regarding university, despite coming from backgrounds and towns where higher education is not readily available and resources may be limited.
The program breaks down some of the barriers that come with being in a school/community within regional or remote WA that may have limited resources to an extent. I think it provides students with the opportunity to see what university is about, the several pathways to continue higher education, and the many support systems on offer. The program is broad, with pathways for schools that are challenged by resources, some that are challenged by distance, or both. It is a focused program that offers opportunities to students from schools that have low transfer rates to tertiary education and, therefore, it promotes the culture of academic achievement as well as the desire to continue learning and make a difference to the community.
I successfully completed my bachelor degree with distinctions in 2015 and am currently in my third year of postgraduate medicine with the Rural Clinical School in Albany. Medical practice in a rural community is rather different than in the metropolitan areas and I have been loving it so far. Once I graduate, I hope to work and train in rural towns as a doctor. That is another reason why I think Aspire UWA is a great program; by offering students in regional areas a view of university and making it an achievable goal, you often find that students end up heading back to their rural towns to be contributing community members. I have several friends who have graduated and returned to Karratha or other rural communities to pursue their careers.
I often run into people from my high school and previous teachers, and it is quite amazing to see how proud they are. There have been times when university studies and pressures were overwhelming, but working through it and sticking to my goals has been worth it, knowing I am going to hopefully make a difference and give back to the community one day. I hope to continue working through barriers and making my friends, family and myself proud. I also value the smaller successes. When a student in the Aspire UWA program tells me how my story helped them think about their own and consider their options, it’s a good feeling knowing I’m part of a program that makes a difference.
I think the community in Karratha is becoming more aware of university pathways and I am seeing more and more students from the Pilbara continuing tertiary education after high school. So I wonder if stories like mine and my peers’ have had a positive impact on the school students there.
I hope to graduate and work as a doctor in 2020 and hope to stay involved with Aspire UWA and similar programs in some way and continue to encourage students to see the potential within.
In my own experience, motivation, humility, effective communication, self-awareness and positivity are important qualities to achieve success, reinforced by a strong support network. The options are endless – be curious and seek answers.
This student voice story has been reproduced with the kind permission of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE). NCSEHE provides national leadership in student equity in higher education, connecting research, policy and practice to improve higher education participation and success for marginalised and disadvantaged people in Australia. The original version of this student voice story is available at: https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/my-story-student-voice-arshya-pankaj/