Nursing and science degrees prepared her for med school

One of OUM’s younger students, Danella Ashwin, RN earned her nursing degree two years ago from Fremantle Notre Dame University (AU). She also has a BS in Physiology from the University of Western Australia and prior to nursing, worked as a Research Assistant in the regional town of Margaret River.

But she always wanted to be a doctor.

Danella Ashwin during Fair Game activities in Western Australia

“I always wanted to do medicine, since I was very, very young,” says Danella. “I really loved science and wanted to know the reason behind things. I loved learning about the human body.”

Danella tried to get into a traditional medical school but the competition was tough, and it proved very difficult. Instead, she used her nursing degree to gain more exposure into the medical system before pursuing OUM’s program. Danella loves to work with people and give patients more of an insight into how to manage their health.

“Patients can be very vulnerable, and you are there to support them. This puts you in a very privileged position when you are able to impart your knowledge to help them understand,” she says.

Flexibility is important

Danella works as an RN two days each week, is a singer-songwriter/musician on weekends, and remains very involved in community volunteer activities. She has also been a competitive athlete in springboard diving, swimming, triathlons, and adventure races.

When researching OUM, Danella was fortunate to have a few friends who were students, one a recent graduate, and another who is a term ahead of her in the curriculum.  She says it was valuable to learn their perspective, realize that she could continue to work during her first two years, and be able to study medicine at the same time.

Time management is an ongoing process, according to Danella, who says that her work schedule allows her to manage live lectures most of the time. When scheduling conflicts occur, she takes advantage of OUM’s recorded lectures. She says she has specific times during her week when she plans her most intense study.

Danella also volunteers with the organization Fair Game, which delivers recycled sports equipment and health education programs to underserved communities around Australia. This year, she led a team of Fairgamers to a remote Aboriginal community in Western Australia’s Kimberley region where they brought people together through sport, creating a healthy environment for kids to play, trust, discover, and build friendships.

Support resources are helpful

OUM has many student support options available to keep her on track, says Danella, starting with her academic advisor.

“I usually meet with my advisor every fortnight to go over things I may have missed during my weekly quizzes and to keep me on track with the rest of my class. There are a whole range of people happy to help you in OUM’s distance learning environment. You never feel like you’re alone,” she says.

Handling the skeptics

When OUM was established 16 years ago, the concept of distance learning was seen as ambitious for a medical program. Fast forward to today and many medical schools are looking at integrating online components into their curriculum. Despite the advances, Danella advises prospective students that they will meet skeptics.

She adds that while there may be initial skepticism, especially from those who may have attended a more traditional medical program, distance learning has become much more mainstream. Danella advises staying focused on the goal and gathering strength from classmates.

“Be confident in your decision to become a physician. Stick together with your class, know who you are, and why you wanted to study medicine,” she says

So, has medical school influenced Danella’s nursing career?

“I’ve become more of a critical thinker,” she says. “I immediately start thinking about a diagnosis and treatment options, trying to put all the pieces together. Having more understanding to better educate patients has made me a better nurse. I hope that the long process to get into medicine will also make me a better doctor.”