Paul Galea and Dina Vassilevska (2009)

Dina Vassilevska (2009)

Paul Galea: Hello Dina Vassilevska!How are you? 

Dina: I’m good. Thank you. How are you?

Paul Galea: I’m very well, Dina. I usually intro our talks with a little bit of a background. I remember you very fondly as a very effervescent, high energy, very positive young woman at school. And I’m wondering if that’s still who you are.

Dina: I would say so most of the time. Yeah, very effervescent!

Paul Galea: That’s very good. And you left our School in 2009, I believe. Well, I actually don’t believe it. I know that you and I were going to meet up in Darwin, but you actually were working as a doctor out on Groote Eylandt when I was in Darwin. Is that correct?

Dina: Yes, that is.

Paul Galea: And Dina, what I’m very interested in knowing is how did you end up as a doctor in that very remote part of our country? Just give me the journey that you’ve made to get there, if you wouldn’t mind.

Dina: LISTEN So after school, I went straight to uni. I did Medical Science and my Honours degree,”wannabe medicine”,  which most people that do post grad Med do. Then I took two gap years off after that, trying to get into Med. The first thing I got into was at the Gold Coast but it was a bit of a shock and I decided not to go ahead in the second year. I went travelling back to Europe and Israel to see my family and didn’t get anywhere in terms of Medicine. So then I did a Master’s Degree and then I did Medicine down at Wollongong University.

*Paul Galea:  Hang on, Dina. I thought your family was from Bulgaria. 

Dina: Yes, my mum and step father are from Bulgaria.  They returned there when I was 16 and I stayed with Floyd Sen and his family for the rest of school.  I never knew my biological father and my mum wouldn’t tell me about him, apart from the fact that he was a sculptor. About two years after I left school, I was doing “genetics” at Uni and I became very interested about finding out about my father. My mum finally told me his name and l “googled” him and found him! I emailed him and three days later he responded, saying he had been waiting for this contact since the day I had been born. He was Palestinian, living in Ramle, in Israel and was indeed a sculptor. His friend told me he had made a sculpture of an empty swing hanging off a tree branch because my mother had sent him a photo of me on a swing when I was one year old. The whole thing of connecting was so lovely. When I went to visit him in Israel, I got to meet my younger brother and sisters and my father’s huge extended family made me feel so welcome! It has been a really wonderful addition to my life! *

Paul Galea: That’s just beautiful, Dina. What I am hearing is that from early on, you wanted to be a doctor, but you had to go the roundabout way to get in because the marks to get straight into Medicine at say Sydney Uni are so ridiculously high that very few people can get there.  So you’re going this roundabout way and you were really driven to get there. It sounds as though you were, anyway?

Dina: I think I was driven to get there. I think, also, I was very keen on being a student and not an adult for at least my twenties. I think when you were a student, no-one asked you why you’re not excelling in other parts of your life, like having a career and having lived out of home and all the other adult parts.

Paul Galea: Okay, so you’re thinking that maybe it was a combination of being driven to be a doctor, but also maybe just hiding from growing up a little bit.

Dina: Definitely. I’d say so.

Paul Galea: Okay, that’s interesting. We might delve into that a bit later. So go on. So you’re at the University of Wollongong doing medicine.

Dina: Yeah, down in Nowra. I did lots of John Flynn, which is a scholarship to do remote placements. Basically, I did it in the NT, out in the central desert. I went there for three months over three visits, and I guess that probably solidified my passion for coming out to the NT, working in remote health and working in the indigenous health sphere. When it came around to apply for jobs, Darwin and Alice Springs were my first choice as hospitals and I got a job as an intern, which is a first year doctor, up in Darwin and I’m staying here this second year and possibly another year. You know, I never know what the future holds too much. As part of our second year, we have the opportunity to go out to do a remote placement. So that’s mainly primary health, working in a remote area clinic and I got to go to Groote Eylandt . It’s very, very special. 

Paul Galea: Yeah, there wouldn’t be many people in our country that have been out there, and so you’re out there helping the First Nations people. And how is that? Obviously, you found that’s pretty rewarding?

Dina: Listen It is. It’s really rewarding. Groote is quite unique in itself because it’s the biggest manganese mine in the world. The Anindilyakwa people are quite different to the Yolngu people in east Arnhem and because of all the royalties from the mine, the services on the island are pretty good. I think going out remote is very rewarding. It’s also very challenging and isolating, and it’s a tough environment working there but also, living there and being a patient, even though we have great services, you’re very far away from a big hospital and Darwin Hospital is by no means a big hospital in the grand scheme of things. So you have to learn to be very flexible and very adaptable. The senior doctors there and the remote area nurses, who do most of the work, are amazing and really, really good at working with patients and acknowledging what their desires are and working around ways of not going to hospital and not having to go ‘off country’ for treatment. I’m really glad I went there, and I hope to go back one day.

Paul Galea: Very nice. I actually had a girlfriend who worked as a teacher on Groote in the early eighties, and I’m pretty sure it would have been pretty different then, but she said it was unbelievable. So I sort of know a little bit about how it might be, but that sounds really good. And you get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people, Dina, which is something I remember; you being someone who always went out of your way to be kind and helpful to other people. It sounds as though you found a very nice niche for yourself in terms of doing that in the rest of your life. Talking about remembering you, have you got anything, any memories of school that you enjoyed that you’d like to share with us?

Dina: I really, really loved International Day. 

That was always really fun. And ArtsFest. I have fun memories of World Causes Clubs that you helped us start with me and Emma Horsburgh. I remember once we brought in an animal welfare group to come in to do a talk for our club and they brought all these chickens and rabbits that were rescued.  Emma and I had told them to keep it at a Year Seven level, to not be too drastic. But then they ended up showing some pretty confronting videos of animal abuse and I think about four girls left, saying that they’re going to be vegan and I was really worried that we were going to get into a lot of trouble in school.

Paul Galea: Well you probably did the world a favour, getting four carnivores to turn into vegans!?

Dina: Yeah, hopefully.

Paul Galea: Are you still in touch with her? Emma?

Dina: No. No, but I think she has a baby.

Paul Galea: Okay. She she was a feisty one.

Dina: She was. She was a lovely girl.

Paul Galea: Yeah, she used to give me a really hard time. So that’s nice to hear that you enjoyed yourself at school. 

Dina: I think I really loved school. I think IGS was a place where I really grew into what I am now in some way. I think it really fostered my love for social justice, even though I don’t do too much in that space any more, outside of work. It just equipped me with the right tools to be confident in my adult life.

Paul Galea: Very nice. That’s a nice recommendation. Now, have you got any advice? Because you’re pretty persistent. Have you got any advice that you could give to our students who are going through school now because I think that people who have gone through school and then gone into the rest of their life have really good ideas, much more say, than someone like me, about what’s needed to make it these days. Any advice there? 

Dina: I think it’s really important to focus on yourself and and not he distracted by what other people were doing and I think in today’s world, especially with Instagram and all the social media, there’s a lot of comparing. And comparison is the thief of joy, as someone once told me.

Paul Galea: That’s really good.

Dina: And I think for each individual it’s really important to just follow your own path. Believe in yourself, spend less time on your phone and not worry about what everyone else is doing.

Paul Galea: Well, I mean, in today’s world of social media, that is pretty useful advice, I think, and I think coming from someone who’s a lot younger, I think it’s actually very worthwhile. Dina, I always loved interacting with you. You and I had a great time You’re always so much fun and it sounds, I think, that hasn’t changed that much. I’m assuming that when you’re in Darwin, you are having a lot of fun! I’m just so unhappy that we didn’t actually get to meet up. But anyway, I’m assuming in Darwin that when you’re not on duty you’re having a pretty good time!

Dina: Yes, that’s for sure. Darwin’s very social. It’s been a wild time in Darwin. Lot of things to do in “the dry”. Lots of places to go out, lots of beautiful nature and always a party. So it’s pretty good; I’m very fortunate. 

Paul Galea: You’ve made a nice choice and is there any chance you’ll stay there? Do you think or you’re definitely going to come back?

Dina: I don’t know if I will come back to Sydney. I still don’t know. I’m not on a training programme or anything yet, so I’m doing six months of emergency this year, so I’ve just started, and then after that, I will decide if I want to stay in Darwin for another year or longer, or maybe move up to Cairns.  I’m not ready to come back to Sydney just yet, and I don’t think I’ll go back, probably for a while, but I do miss swimming in cold, beautiful oceans.

Paul Galea: Oh yeah, The water’s pretty warm up here, and I’m always keeping my eye out not to get eaten by a “salty” or stung by one of those “stinger” things or eaten by a shark. It’s like every time you go for a swim, it’s like you’re taking your life into your hands!

Dina: It is. I went on a fishing charter a few weeks ago and there were two giant sharks, so you have to be a bit careful!

Paul Galea: It’s an interesting place. I just think it’s just wonderful. Alright, you know, we could prattle on for hours. I’m going to let you go now, and I’m going to say thank you very much. And also, it’s really lovely to hear your voice. And to hear that you’re doing so well and that you are giving back to society like you always did at school.

Dina: Enjoy the rest of your travels and have a wonderful day.

Paul Galea: Bye bye, Dina. 

*This small section of the interview was edited from the audio section, due to static. 

Listen to the interview below.