And ticking that gym box

(This profile was originally written when Dr. Stewart was a fourth-year medical student, a few months ago, before he graduated.)

Many OUM students first thought about becoming doctors when they were children, but Matthew Stewart was not one of those kids.

He had been an athlete growing up, largely a rugby player, but also a swimmer and he liked to surf. Matt had always liked PE classes in school – he liked being in the gym, working out, feeling fit. He had been approached about studying physiotherapy, but instead found his way to the University of Sydney which offered a combined degree, Master of Nursing and Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science. Matt has met the Australian national standards as both an exercise scientist and a registered nurse.

Matthew Stewart, early morning in Samoa on the way to TTM Hospital, passing by the Dialysis Clinic.

“I was fascinated by the science behind exercise and sports, how to be stronger and faster. I have always loved fitness and pushing the boundaries of human physical performance,” says Matt. However, he felt nursing provided more opportunities to develop a career and help people.

Upon graduation, Matt’s nursing career flourished, beginning with a rehabilitation center in Sydney, then an HDU/sub-acute ICU in rural NSW, and Canberra’s tertiary Calvary Hospital in both the ICU and emergency department.

“I had worked for a few years in several great environments. I was in a good place with my career,” says Matt, a fourth-year student from Canberra, Australia. “I wasn’t unhappy at all. But I began thinking that I had more potential. I thought going from nursing to medicine might be the best career path for me.”

So, Matt started looking at medical schools. He took the Australian medical admission exams and looked into several programs for a couple years. He then saw an ad in the Nursing Post for Oceania University of Medicine, which he sat on for about a year. Once he finally applied and was accepted into OUM, he even delayed his start date for ten months. Why? Matt feels very strongly about the importance of planning and making sure your personal and professional life is ready and able to accommodate the demands of medical school.

Get your life in order

“After I was accepted, I started to realize the time and financial commitment I was heading into and the work that would go into arranging clinicals,” says Matt. “I wanted to be in the best mental and financial position to last the four years of study.”

He found it important to be practical and really think through how this was going to work, from budgeting and saving money, to freeing up demands on his time, and setting up a schedule and place for study. He also needed to make sure he had the backing of his workplace before starting classes.

Matt has been fortunate that Calvary Hospital has supported his journey. Throughout the OUM program, the hospital has been extremely flexible and accepting, from allowing Matt to work part-time during the pre-clinical curriculum, choosing his own shifts when possible, and even allowing him to pick up shifts between clinical rotations to help keep finances in check.

“They have been very supportive. I also had some good chats with my dad, and it was a few of his mature words of wisdom that put me over the line to accept the offer. My parents are committed to see me through,” he says.

Despite all his planning, Matt’s pre-clinical years did not come without challenges. He suffered a devastating knee injury within the first six months of study which required knee reconstruction and 18 months of rehabilitation. The backing from his workplace and family have proven to be an invaluable foundation of support that he is extremely grateful for.

Global rotations

Matt Stewart (right), Colin Marriott (center) and their supervising psychiatrist in Scotland, Dr. Tom McPhee.

Matt has just completed a term as one of the Student Representatives on the OUM Academic Board and he expects to graduate in August. He began his first rotation, Internal Medicine (IM) at TTM Hospital in Samoa, under the watchful eye of OUM Vice Chancellor Viali Lameko, MBBS, MPH. He then returned home to Australia to complete his Community Medicine clerkship, followed by rotations in India, Scotland, South Africa and back again to Samoa. Matt will be completing his last rotations near home where he will also prepare for his final exams and OSCE.

During his IM rotation in Samoa, Matt met another Australian student, Collin Marriott. He and Colin stayed in contact after TTM and ended up doing their Psychiatry rotation together in Scotland, thanks to contacts originally made by recent graduate Hilary Skimming, MD.

Earlier this year, Matt also travelled to Pretoria, South Africa where he gained some of his most technical and edifying experience while completing rotations in Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics. Emergency Medicine happens to be one of the specialties Matt is considering post-OUM, along with Critical Care, where he amassed a good deal of exposure during his nursing career.

“Working in Emergency Medicine allows you to make an impact in those initial moments,” he says, adding that he likes the problem-solving aspect. Regardless of what he decides, Matt remains the first and only member of his family to work in health care. And he is “getting glimpses of being a doctor,” he says of the transition from nursing.

Some things change, some don’t

“It’s hard to change old habits. I’m used to following orders,” he says, including that more recently, learning to be a doctor has been about “problem solving, becoming less passive, and working within a team.”

One thing he won’t be changing is his regular workouts.

“The gym will always be a priority. I need to ‘tick that box’ to keep fit. It makes me happy and gives me more energy,” he says. “It’s how I can manage long days or endure a 17-hour O&G shift.”

(January 2020)