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Dr Graham and Dr Bell tackle motherhood and medicine

Published:  02 February 2023

Dr Melissa Graham and Dr Melanie Bell were both five years through medical school when they became pregnant with their now 20-month-old and 18-month-old babies.

After giving birth in 2021 and spending time with their newborns, they returned to university to finish their placement hours.

Now the duo are two of the 77 junior doctors who are working at Townsville University Hospital in 2023.

Dr Graham, who is 42, has a language degree and previously owned and operated a restaurant, said there was never really any doubt about returning to medicine after giving birth.

“I had always wanted to be a doctor when I was younger, but I hadn’t had that opportunity before,” she said.

“There was no medical school here when I graduated school and I would have had to move to Brisbane to study which was expensive and difficult to do.

“That desire to be a doctor never truly faded and when we had someone offer to buy the restaurant the opportunity finally came along, and I took it.

“When I took time off in sixth year to have my baby, there was no doubt that I would be returning to university, and I made sure to keep up my knowledge during that time too.”

28-year-old Dr Bell said the feeling was mutual and had known she wanted to stay in healthcare after she finished a stint nursing in the Northern Territory.

“I did a nursing degree when I finished school and I moved to the Northern Territory and worked there for a few years,” Dr Bell said.

“I loved nursing, but I always felt like it wasn’t a forever career for me, and I thought about what I wanted to do and decided that if I could make it into medical school, then it was meant to be.

“I was pregnant right through those final exams in fifth year and was doing my sixth-year placements right up until 34 weeks which was hard.

“But there was never an option to not finish the degree after giving birth, I found that I loved medicine and it was definitely where I wanted to be career-wise.

Both Dr Graham and Dr Bell are on the rural generalist intern pathway and looking ahead to what their careers as doctors may look like.

Dr Graham, who grew up on a cattle station, said she had moved to Townsville for school and had been here ever since but was open to moving and shaking things up.

“My family is happy to go anywhere, as long as it’s coastal, but at my stage in life I can’t see myself doing another 10 years to become a surgeon or super specialised,” Dr Graham said.

“Being a rural doctor has it all; there a lot of procedural things you can do, and I think I’ll enjoy the work and I’ll enjoy the communities.”

For Dr Bell, things are a little less clear after a placement in ears, nose, and throat (ENT) has her questioning where the next few years will take her.

“I’m just looking for any opportunity at all, I want to try it all,” Dr Bell said.

“But I am having a bit of a career crisis right now, because my very last placement was in ENT, and I loved everything about it.

“I still love rural; I grew up on a farm and I love rural life but check back in to see where I am in 10 years.”

Townsville Hospital and Health Service board chair Tony Mooney said the dedication and perseverance of Dr Graham and Dr Bell are traits that would take them far as doctors.

“Medicine is both a challenging and rewarding career and those traits of perseverance and dedication that see our junior doctors through their six years of medical school set them up for a pathway to success,” he said.

“It is exciting and encouraging to see so many people are entering healthcare and beginning their careers as medical professionals.

“The experience that our junior doctors will gain by interning at the only tertiary referral hospital in North Queensland is invaluable and I look forward to seeing our new cohort grow into exceptional doctors.”

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