Doctor in the house

Overweight high school drop-outs from low socio-economic backgrounds don’t get to be doctors – especially if they are single mothers. At least that’s what Carolyn Siddell believed.
Now a GP registrar at Campaspe Family Practice in Kyneton, Carolyn has discredited that voice of negativity but getting to where she is today was no easy ride.
Carolyn withdrew from school six weeks before the end of year 12 to find employment to help support her family. She fell pregnant shortly after.
“I thought that was the end of being a doctor,” she said.
She was 18 when she had her first son and her second came two years later.
“When my littlest went to school I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mum watching Oprah,” she said, “so, I went to TAFE to learn reception work because I thought that would be a good career.”
It was her TAFE instructor who offered some of the first encouragement to pursue further study. For Carolyn at the time that meant becoming a legal secretary but after moving interstate she took on temp work at an accounting firm where friends encouraged her to consider university.
“I ended up going to the uni just to shut everyone up because they were really annoying me. It was just – I had my job, I had my kids: I was good. I wanted them to leave me alone,” she said.
“When you’re a teen mum who hasn’t finished high school, and overweight the way I am, you don’t get a lot of positive reinforcement – from society, from anyone.”
Carolyn never expected to be accepted. She found herself trialing a two-week science course and before she knew it she was enrolled to study science part-time.
Of course, there were unexpected challenges. Both of her children contracted glandular fever and she had to put study on pause for one semester. She then faced health issues of her own when she was diagnosed with type two diabetes.
In her final year she took an invitational unit for pathology with the Dean of a medical school in America. Carolyn had her honours year lined up and had planned to go into medical research. The dean had a different idea: medical school.
“I went through all my excuses and he shot them all down,” Carolyn said.
She discovered the GAMSAT entrance exam was closing the next day for that year and with $450 in her bank account she decided to take it.
“I said to myself that I would have to deal with this for an entire year if I don’t do this now and I didn’t think I would pass… But, of course, I got a really good GAMSAT score,” she said.
With an op shop outfit and borrowed plane fare she made her way to Deakin University for the interview that got her into medical school.
Just when she thought she would be taking exams, Carolyn had an adverse drug reaction that “threw everything out”.
She had a condition called transverse myelitis: an inflammation of the spinal cord. The neurological disorder interrupts the messages that the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. It left Carolyn paralysed from the waist to the knee.
“Nothing comes easy,” she said. “It was just challenge, to challenge, to challenge, to challenge.”
Carolyn spent two weeks at the Austin Hospital and four weeks in rehab in Melbourne. She celebrated her 50th birthday in rehab.
Her experience and recovery has aided her in understanding the struggles of her patients.
“I’m one of those really lucky people who gets to live their childhood dream,” she said.
“I think the paralysis has given me a unique insight into what people are going through when they come to see me.
“Your past is either the stumbling block you use to excuse your life or the stepping stone you use to change it. It’s that choice bit that’s hard to make.”
Carolyn graduated medical school in 2013. She plans to stay in Kyneton long-term.

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