Last year, I had the privilege of being named Young Australian of the Year for the state of Victoria, and it has been an honour to represent central Victoria at the national level.
Now, as we approach Australia Day and prepare to celebrate eight new Young Australians from around the nation, I reflect on the previous 12 months and what I have learnt.
I started the year with a trip to Canberra for a whirlwind three days attending the Australian of the Year awards.
I had the opportunity to meet the Governor-General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove at Government House, to attend a morning tea with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mrs Morrison at The Lodge, and to participate in the live filming of the awards ceremony on ABC TV.
While it was a surreal opportunity that I never expected would happen, what was really enjoyable about the three days was meeting all of the other state and territory Australian of the Year recipients.
There were so many people in the room that did different work but had a shared vision of improving things for their own communities. It was inspiring to gain fresh ideas about how to go about enacting change in my own community.
The Young Australian of the Year honour also gave me a bigger platform to ensure that all rural, regional, and remote Australians have equal access to healthcare.
My advocacy work took me across the country - from delivering an election briefing at Parliament House in Canberra, to speaking at the NSW Ministry of Health in Sydney, to presenting in front of a thousand delegates at the Rural Medicine Australia Conference on the Gold Coast.
During the year, I was humbled to be recognised further, this time with the honour of being named Young Victorian of the Year as part of the Victoria Day Awards at Melbourne Town Hall.
I was recognised for "Community and Public Service" alongside Victorian of the Year Neale Daniher, who is a former AFL player and current advocate for Motor Neurone Disease.
Later, I had the pleasure of being celebrated for my work at the Parliament of Victoria.
I was awarded with a commemorative plate by the President of the Legislative Council Shaun Leane and by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Colin Brooks.
Most importantly though, I continued my community work wherever possible.
I was invited to serve as the second-ever female Chieftain for the Bendigo "Scots Day Out" festival, representing my great-great-grandmother who emigrated to Bendigo from Glasgow during the 1850s gold rush.
I provided the keynote for the Zonta Club of Bendigo's International Women's Day festivities, supported the annual Bendigo School Chaplaincy Dinner as guest speaker, and attended numerous high school events.
Perhaps my proudest moment of the year was returning to my former school - Weeroona College Bendigo - and delivering the closing keynote for the annual awards night at the Ulumbarra Theatre.
I talked about my journey since that very same awards night as a student, and about the people who throughout the subsequent years have tried to tell me that I couldn't achieve my dreams.
I never envisioned my medical career would take me where it has taken me. When I was growing up, I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but my motivation was to provide day-to-day care to patients.
But one thing I have realised in the past year is every time you take an opportunity, another five pop up. All of a sudden you are looking at all of the opportunities you have from one initial leap of faith.
Thinking back on my time in high school, a lot of opportunities didn't seem achievable to me. I think there are a lot of other young people in central Victoria who think the same way.
But just know that you need to back yourself. You need to get your foot in the door, and if the door isn't available, sometimes you need to sneak in the window.
Once you're part of the conversation, all of the other doors open.
The year was rounded out with one last surprise, as I was named by the Australian Financial Review as one of Australia's top 100 Women of Influence in 2019.
I had the opportunity to celebrate that recognition at a ceremony in Sydney, with 99 other inspiring women from across the country.
Being listed in the Australian Financial Review has opened my eyes to what is possible. I previously saw myself as a doctor and a medical person, but I hadn't considered how it could translate into business and other endeavours.
While my year as Young Australian has come to a close, I hope to continue representing central Victoria as I take my next steps.
In March, I will be flying to New York City to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as a delegate for the Medical Women's International Association.
I will be representing the voices of female doctors globally on topics of gender equality and empowerment.
I am also the chair of the Rural Health Conference of Victoria, which will be running in Bendigo this May. I hope there will be a lot of political discussions around health and the regions, but also a lot of networking opportunities.
It hopefully will convince doctors and other medical professionals how fantastic it is to work here in Bendigo.
After all that, this is what I really want you to know: postcodes are incredibly powerful, particularly when it comes to our health.
Where we are born, raised, live, and work remain major predictors for what our future health outcomes will be. And for our community and those like it, the outcomes are not always equitable.
We need to better support our rural, regional and remote patients, as well as those patients who might be marginalised, disadvantaged and isolated for other reasons, to participate in healthcare.
We need to continue increasing the local availability of health services by safeguarding education for our young people, so that they may become our future doctors, nurses, allied health workers and other clinicians.
We need to stop listening to the doubters, to the naysayers, to the people who actively try to hold us back, bring us down or stand in our way.
We need to take our rightful seats at the tables that make decisions about us and our community.
To all our young people in central Victoria, this message is for you. Know that you have the power to change this world for the better, even if you're just a simple girl from Bendigo like me.
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