Emma van Hougenhouck-Tulleken is in her final year of the Doctor of Medicine at Griffith University. She completed two years of clinical placement in rural settings and calls her experience a privilege.   

For Emma, medicine was always on the cards. Growing up in Warwick, the medicine student says she’s always been acutely aware of the healthcare disparity between urban and rural communities.

Upon finishing high school, she strategically studied a Bachelor of Nursing with the intention to further her studies in medicine later on.

“Nursing was a practical and relatively short degree that was health-related. This degree allowed me to develop clinical and communication skills whilst working in the hospital system in a flexible manner,” she explains.

After graduation, Emma spent five years establishing a career as a Registered Nurse in haematology-oncology and palliative care at John Flynn Private Hospital. During this time, she also completed postgraduate studies in cancer care nursing.

“As a nurse, I was able to observe first-hand the wide range of specialties available in medicine and the impact that the profession has on the lives and outcomes of patients. The ever-changing and expanding field of medicine necessitates lifelong learning which aligns with my values and personality,” Emma shares.

After embarking on a round-the-world trip with her husband, where she found the time and space to redefine her priorities, Emma began the journey of entering medical school – starting with studying for the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT).

“Although I had enjoyed science subjects at school, it had been a long time since I had studied pure sciences which were necessary for GAMSAT and as a springboard for my medical studies. As such, I had to spend a considerable time refreshing my knowledge by poring over my notes and textbooks,” she recalls.

Emma says she chose to study her MD at Griffith University for its reputation, its affiliation to Gold Coast University Hospital and the friendliness and approachability of the staff when attending Open Day events.

“As someone returning to study after years of working and establishing a life on the Gold Coast, I was reluctant to move away from my home, husband and support network. Studying at Griffith University meant that I was able to stay in my own environment and keep my job as a nurse throughout the pre-clinical phase of my degree.”

Embarking in medicine studies comes with challenges and expectations. Emma credits her organisation skills, dedication, and the university’s supportive environment as critical factors in her burgeoning medical journey.

“I have an intense fear of failing that has plagued me since my early years of schooling. Medical school certainly compounds that. The academic staff are very willing to provide valuable feedback and take the time to explain concepts. More importantly, the cohort of medical students, both past and present, are extremely supportive of each other, forming a uniquely collegiate network that fosters friendships, resource-sharing and a truly nurturing and caring environment”.

“In the pre-clinical years of my degree, I worked night shifts on weekends as a nurse. This meant that during the week, I had to carefully plan my time to ensure that I had completed my required study. I am very fortunate to have an extremely supportive and understanding husband and family who have respected the space that I need for study whilst gently encouraging me to maintain my life outside of my role as a medical student,” she adds.

As part of the Griffith University Longlook program, Emma completed two years of clinical placement in rural settings: her third year was in Kingaroy and her fourth year in her hometown, Warwick. 

The Longlook program is a collaborative initiative developed by Queensland Rural Medical Education (QRME) that provides an opportunity for Griffith University medical students to experience the joys and challenges of rural medicine. Medical students moving to country areas may also be offered subsidised accommodation for the term of their stay.

“I have lived on hospital campus for both placements. This means that a typical day is quite unique: it is not uncommon to be woken in the early hours of the morning by a helicopter bringing the retrievals team to transfer a critically ill patient,” Emma explains.

“Each day may see you working in a different department of the hospital, from emergency to obstetrics or in general practice. Working across a number of different specialties initially felt quite daunting but ultimately allowed me to develop integrated knowledge across different fields, to understand the way that these systems interact and follow the patient journey.

“Having grown up in a rural area, returning to my hometown for my final year of medicine is a privilege. My experience has highlighted the importance of Rural Generalists and rural medicine as a specialty that requires a broad, generalist base of knowledge and skills that are crucial to supporting the health of rural communities,” she concludes.

When looking to the future, Emma is excited to returning to the Darling Downs to start a hobby farm and complete an internship at Toowoomba Base Hospital. With her cumulated experience in health, Emma aspires to be a Rural Generalist (rural GP) with advanced skills in both anaesthetics and emergency medicine. She is now part of the Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway and preparing to work alongside the doctors who have inspired her career.

If like Emma your calling is to be part of the next generation of healthcare professionals who understand the issues facing rural communities, find out out all you need to know about the admissions criteria and selection processes for the Doctor of Medicine at Griffith University, and more about places set aside for students from rural backgrounds, under our Rural Priority Access Scheme.