SAM Alexander rode through town last week on a mission to encourage local students to consider a career in rural medicine.
A medical student himself, he said he almost flunked high school and had to take a longer route to medical school, and this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
His choice of riding the Bicentennial Trail to promote his cause may also be considered taking the long road, especially given he doesn’t come from a horse-riding background. In fact he bought his first horse only last year.
“At the age of 10 I attended a horse-riding camp, the first time I’d been on a horse,” Sam said.
“I came home saying, ‘Daddy, Daddy, I want a horse’, and he got me a dirt bike. He figured if I didn’t feed it and didn’t look after it, it would still have some resale value.”
Despite that setback, Sam reignited his love of horses much later when he joined a riding club, looking for a distraction from what he called the claustrophobic plastic nature of the Gold Coast where he was attending Bond University. He then sought out another riding club when attending university in Tasmania, before buying Marda, a six-year-old mare, last year.
He was half-way through his first year of medical school at Monash University when he decided on the trek. To help carry the load, four weeks before his departure he bought two unbroken six-year-old geldings off a man on the Mornington Peninsula, who allowed him to observe his horse-breaking techniques for two weeks before Sam turned his attention to his new purchases.
“It was a very steep learning curve, for all of us,” he said.
He found the early sections through the Victorian Alps hard going, “but it’s going really well now.”
His mother is accompanying him by vehicle on the Lithgow to Toowoomba segment, giving the horses a break from carrying the heavy rugs and supplies needed for the colder months. Sam expects he won’t be able to complete the full 5,330 kilometres of the trail as he has to get back for the start of the new school year, but hopes to get as far north as possible.
He was very saddle-sore to start with, but daily use of those same muscles has sorted that out. He said spending so much time with his horses means he can read every ear flick. He said he can’t say he’s loved every foot of the trail, and there have been good days and bad.
“When it’s cold and raining, I want to chuck it in. When the sun’s shining as I ride through amazing scenery, I don’t want to get off the horse.”
He’s fundraising for the Royal Flying Doctor Service along the way, as well as visiting schools to encourage more students into a career in rural health.
“There’s a shortage of doctors, nurses and allied staff,” he said.
“Research shows that most students in these disciplines are from city-based areas, and that they go back to them.”
Sam feels that part of the solution is to get country kids into these degrees, so that they will bring their skills back to rural areas.
“I almost failed high school, so I’m proof that anyone can do it.”
He said undertaking other degrees as a stepping stone to a medical degree has its advantages.
“You need that maturity when you’re faced with life and death decisions.”
He aims to give high school students the benefits of his own experience, advising them in their subject choices and preparing them for what can be a daunting selection process.
His own goal is to be a paediatric surgeon in a rural area, and nine more years of study should see him attain that.
“I plan to be one of those old 80 years plus doctors still plodding around in the local community, somewhere in the bush,” he said.