Born within sight of the Hammersley Ranges at the tiny Paraburdoo hospital, in the Pilbara, WA, Madison Ludwig seems always to have been destined for something special. She just didn’t accept it at the time.
The Kungarakan and Gurindji woman, who is a second year medical student in the Northern Territory Medical Program never thought she would be smart enough for medicine.
“School kept me busy, I worked at Target and played footy for St Marys. I did pretty well, but I was never top of the class and it didn’t cross my mind that I could become a doctor,” Maddy says.
Her family had moved around a succession of small communities before coming home to Darwin in the latter years of Maddy’s primary schooling – so it didn’t seem like such a huge jump to leave home again to study at Curtin University in Perth. After seeing so many people in her community with health issues, nursing seemed to be a good career choice.
After a year in Perth, a year on the road as a remote area nurse across WA and then two more years as a renal nurse back in Darwin, Maddy was exposed to a wide range of health environments, but progressively realised that growing her clinical knowledge to understand why health conditions occurred was the part of her job that she enjoyed most – which seemed to be pointing her in the direction of a new career in medicine.
“In the renal service we have an Indigenous doctor who the patients love, and they all want to see her. In the same way there were just two Indigenous nurses in the renal unit, but most of the patients were Indigenous and they would all ask to have us as their dialysis nurse,” Maddy says.
“It was really obvious to me that we definitely needed more Indigenous doctors. In Darwin most of the patients are Indigenous and you do see patients struggle to communicate and connect with non-Indigenous doctors, so I began to think I would be of greater value if I was a doctor – but I still didn’t think I would get in.”
A friend from primary school was in the final years of the Northern Territory Medical Program and as COVID hit, restricting social options, he encouraged her to apply.
Maddy completed the Indigenous Entry Stream over three months and at the end of 2020, found she had been accepted into the program. Plagued with self-doubt, she only quit her nursing program two weeks before her first classes started, as she worked to convince herself that she was capable of becoming a doctor.
“I was worried that I wasn’t smart enough for medicine. I didn’t have to do the GAMSAT test like everyone else and that led me to lots of questions about whether I was good enough. I have talked about this with some of the other students, and despite their entry pathway, this seemed to be a common feeling,” she says.
“Then a few people around me said, ‘Just do it, give it a go and if it’s too much, you can always leave’.
“Within a few weeks I started to realise it is hard, and there is a lot of time and effort involved, but it’s definitely manageable.
“I realised that with the Indigenous pathway program, I came into the course just as prepared as everybody else.”
“Once you are in, you quickly realise that you are up to the pace, and can keep up with it.
“Having friends in med school has been really important to me. You find your little crew and we study together, keep each other on track and play games of Uno in between study to break it up.
“I am also lucky in that I have a lot of friends and family in the medical and nursing fields, who can help me keep motivated and on track.
“People say you don’t have to be smart to study medicine, you just have to work hard, and I thought that was a bit of a one-liner, but it really is true.
“You don’t have to be the smartest in the room. Being academically capable is essential of course, but also problem-solving skills and people skills are incredibly important as well.“The GAMSAT test doesn’t evaluate some of those crucial skills – it doesn’t define you as a person, or as a doctor.
“I am confident now that I will graduate with a whole range of skills that will help me become a confident and competent doctor for all of my future patients, and in particular for my Indigenous patients.”