University of Melbourne Magazine

All of studying medicine is a privilege

  • When Dana Forcey, a final year Doctor of Medicine (MD) student at Melbourne Medical School, learned that she’d won the 2013 June Howqua Prize she was shocked.

    Dana receiving the June Howqua Prize

    Dana receiving the June Howqua Prize

    I never expected some sort of external acknowledgment of what I’d done,” Dana says.

    “To receive the prize was a wonderful added bonus and it opens a lot of doors to things that I can do.”

    The June Howqua Prize is awarded annually in memory of its namesake donor, who graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Doctor of Medicine in 1947. The University of Melbourne MD student who receives the prize must display potential, promise and a high level of academic achievement.

    With its support, Dana hopes to present research that she has undertaken with the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC) at a national sexual health conference in Sydney.

    Her current research focus is looking into factors influencing the sexual health of women with female partners, an area of medicine that she’s found to be “oft-maligned” and overlooked.

    In her previous work with the MSHC, Dana studied the influence of the menstrual cycle on women testing positive for chlamydia, seeking to bridge the understanding between immunological factors and infection. This research took her to Darwin last year, where she presented her findings to a national conference of leaders in the field of sexual health.

    Dana says that the experience of attending conferences is vital for medical students to understand the life cycle of a research project beyond the lab.

    “I think that it’s important, especially as a student, to gain an appreciation for how research networking works, how research is presented and how the discourse is facilitated.”

    While there are a number of opportunities to take part in these conferences, Dana notes that they are often out of reach financially for many students. She says that with the support of the June Howqua Prize she will be able to take advantage of opportunities that she wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

    “The prize takes the financial burden off your final year of studies and allows you to really focus on your research and your training and transition into practice. I think that’s really important.”

    Dana was drawn to researching female sexual health during her placements in rural South Australia as part of the John Flynn Placement Program, which enables medical students to work in a remote community for a few weeks each year over the course of their degree. As one of just 300 students selected for the program Australia-wide, Dana was struck by the lack of female GPs working in remote and rural areas and saw first hand the impact this had on patients.

    “I gained an insight into the fact that women, even within a developed country like Australia, often do suffer marginalisation with regards to sexual health and reproductive rights, which made me interested in doing research in that area.”

    Since her time as an undergraduate on the University of Melbourne’s Bachelor of Science degree, Dana has gravitated towards working with patients. Indeed it was working with patients during her obstetrics and gynaecology rotation that provided her with the highlight of her degree thus far.

    “I visited a couple on the ward a few days after their son was born, having been at his birth,” Dana recalls.

    “They gave me a picture of him and wrote on the back, ‘We are really pleased that you could share this experience with us’.”

    After she completes her MD, Dana hopes to undertake the Diploma in Obstetrics to augment an interest in critical care. 

    “All of studying medicine is a privilege but that is a particularly intimate moment in somebody’s life,” she says.

    “If you work in remote and rural areas there’s often not a trained obstetrician in the region so I think that having that background is really important.”

    Dana says that in her experience, Melbourne’s MD program is unique to those offered at other universities because it provides all students the opportunity to take part in research, not only the high achievers. She says that these practical opportunities give students context for what they learn in class and are vital for the transition from student to physician. 

    “To allow six months to sit there and problem solve and troubleshoot and be relied upon to see a project through is a really unique opportunity,” Dana says.

    “It has benefitted my practice and I think my peers feel the same way.”

    Through her work at MSHC, Dana says that she’s gained critical thinking skills and an understanding as to how a major research centre utilises collaboration to ensure that they stay at the forefront. 

    “It’s been important to realise that no matter what context you find yourself in or what area of medicine you go into, it is an exercise in ongoing education.”

    Dana says that the broader environment surrounding the University of Melbourne offers medical students unique access to a diverse, collaborative research network.

    That’s one of the great things about Melbourne University. It’s right in this precinct that is all about information sharing and translation research,” she says.

    “To have the university there and the Royal Melbourne there and the Doherty Institute, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and the Royal Women’s and Children’s…it creates a huge network of world class research that is all about collaboration and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.”