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Stubborn perseverance creates a surgeon

Published:  25 March 2022

At every step on her journey to become a surgeon there has been a persistent voice in Dr Lisa Waia’s head calling her an imposter.

Lisa’s journey has taken her from the beaches of Bamaga, the hills of Herberton, the lecture theatres at James Cook University and the operating theatres at Townsville University Hospital.

In February 2022, Dr Waia will complete her general surgery rotation and will soon begin training for her dream specialty as an ear, nose, and throat surgeon

Lisa identifies as a Torres Strait Islander with family roots on Saibai Island. Of the 850 doctors employed by Townsville Hospital and Health Service, nine identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. 

Dr Waia said it was a combination of good luck and good timing but predominately a stubborn perseverance that has seen her become a doctor and pursue surgery.

“There has always been this nagging voice in the back of my head saying what business does a girl from the Torres have trying to become a doctor,” she said

“The challenges I’ve had to overcome to reach this stage of my career has been incredibly unique and I’ve largely had to overcome them in my own way.

“Even now, that feeling of imposter syndrome has never gone away and I don’t think it ever will.”

Lisa also said during the early stages of her professional career, snide racist remarks also took a toll.

“You’d hear the odd comment when I was a junior doctor saying that Indigenous doctors have lower requirements and a different pass mark,” she said.

“Those sort of remarks are just devastating because any young doctor, Indigenous or not, know how much hard work goes into making it in those first couple of years.”

Lisa said despite the journey to come she was exceptionally proud of the work she has put in to become a surgeon.

“I’ve got a beautiful 18-month-old Kyrie at home so I’m not just a surgeon I’m a mum which aren’t two easy things to balance,” she said.

“When I look back from that kid who barely had a primary school education, struggled in high school and had no links to the medical industry there has been a lot to overcome.

 “I think I am a bit of a bad-ass because I knew what I wanted, and I was willing to work as hard as I needed to get it.”

Learn more about the Indigenous Intern Pathway here.

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