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One step at a time: Becoming a junior doctor

It’s no secret that becoming a doctor requires dedication and perseverance over a number of years. With a range of unique pathways to becoming a medical professional, it’s safe to say that no two stories are the same.

Dr Brioney Keats (Class of 2016) is a proud Gamilaroi (Gamilaraay / Kamilaroi) woman currently working with Gold Coast Health. At the beginning of 2022, she was awarded the Director of Medical Education and Clinical Training Prize at the Gold Coast Health Intern Awards in honour of her work in junior doctor mentorship, advocacy, education, and clinical excellence. Dr Keats is currently pursuing a career focused on obstetrics and gynaecology, public health, and paediatrics, while also continuing her involvement with medical education and her role as an advocate within executive spheres. She has also worked as a Medical Program tutor and facilitator at Bond University.

We spoke to Dr Keats about her experience studying medicine at Bond University, her passion for healthcare, and her inspiring career so far.

Brioney Keats (right) pictured with fellow Indigenous Medical Program graduate Myora Stone

Hi, Dr Keats! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a passionate advocate, loyal friend and adoring auntie. Outside of work, I enjoy dancing, singing, watching movies, and spending time with my family, my friends, and my cat!

As a child, I never imagined I could be a doctor, and as a teenager, I didn’t even entertain the idea! With no other doctors in my family, and very infrequent visits to the GP, it never really crossed my mind. As someone who had a passion to help and teach others, I always thought I would end up becoming a schoolteacher. But, a small part of me always yearned to prove myself and be the change I wanted to see in the world. As I commenced studying education in the place I grew up, I felt bored and unfulfilled, taking each day as it came but hoping for something more. Then, along came medicine…

When did you take the first step towards becoming a doctor?

In 2016, I was accepted into Bond’s Medical Program – and my world opened right up. Gosh, has it been a wild ride since!

Over the course of my medical degree, I built a lifelong interest in working with children, and fostered a love for women’s health and pregnancy, while also developing a strong passion for global and Indigenous health.

At Bond, I was able to engage in a range of career-building opportunities. I had the chance to lead Bond’s Global Health Group (MAD – Making a Difference), represent Bond as a student ambassador, participate in healthcare simulation days, and grow my connection to culture through the Nyombil Centre and the Indigenous community on campus.

By December 2020, after the year that was, graduation came and went, along with the honour of being one of the first two Indigenous medical students to graduate from Bond and become doctors. This was when I truly became a doctor. 

What is it like being a doctor?

From day one, introducing yourself as a doctor is weird. You’ve spent five years calling yourself a medical student, now you’re the doctor. It definitely took at least a few weeks before I felt like I’d actually earned the title! Since then, I’ve learnt how to recognise when someone is well, when someone is sick, when someone is dying, and when someone has passed. I know how to reassure parents with a sick child that everything is going to be alright, to support families losing a loved one, the power of de-escalation and counselling patients, what it’s like to perform real CPR, how to assess deteriorating patients, and much more – and this is really just the beginning. 

In my career, I have worked with people who I agree with and those who I don’t. There have been lots of laughs, but also many tears. I have sat in boardrooms, attended council meetings and been invited into conversations about advocacy that I never could have imagined prior to studying and pursuing medicine. The internship experience is unique and so difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t been through it. People expect both everything, and nothing, of you, and you’re just trying to survive each day as it comes. 

I often see people post about ‘living a life you don’t need to take a break from’ – I disagree. Work can be difficult and draining, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be beautiful, joyful, and fulfilling. This last year was challenging in many ways, but it has also taught me resilience and steadfastness. While I’m exhausted from the year that has been, it’s a privilege to be a doctor and I’m hopeful for what is yet to come.

What’s next for you, Dr Keats?

Having completed my internship, I commenced as a Junior House Officer at the beginning of 2022, starting with a 6-month term in obstetrics and gynaecology, and then transitioning back to rotating through other specialties. I continue to engage and advocate on behalf of junior doctors within a range of councils and executive teams (both locally and nationally), whilst also helping to educate future colleagues by delivering workshops and clinical skills sessions to current Bond medical students. 

Acknowledging where I am now also means to acknowledge where I have come from and the people that have helped shape me into who I am today. I think of my grandfather, who passed away in the second year of my degree, and my connection to culture and storytelling. I acknowledge the incredible, strong, and empowering women who helped me through the final years of my studies when I thought I couldn’t make it. Lastly, I think of my family, who have always been there encouraging me and supporting me. The list of acknowledgements could go on and on, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

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