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As Ashleigh Spittle (Class of 2011) embarks upon a career as a surgeon, she reflects on her schooling at Ivanhoe Girls', the importance of female role models, and finding her feet in the medical profession. 

After Year 12 I took a year off to ski and work, and then I started at Monash University, doing a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery (Hons). Today, I’m a surgical resident at Box Hill Hospital and I’m planning to do general surgery as a long term career.   

When I was in Year 12, I decided I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day. I wanted to work with people and do something that challenged me intellectually. My Year Level Coordinator, Lisa Toomey and Careers Coordinator Suzanne Lees encouraged me to apply for medicine. It wasn’t until we started placement in third year that I knew it was definitely the right fit. I think they both knew me pretty well. I’m glad they sent me down this path, it was definitely a good choice. 

Because of my background in cross country skiing, I always had an interest in cardio-respiratory fitness, so I thought I’d go down that pathway in my medical career. 

I’d never actually met a female surgeon at all until I was in my final year of medical school. 
Until then I hadn’t thought of surgery as a viable pathway for me… it was definitely a case of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see”. 

Having now had the opportunity to work with some inspirational young, female surgeons who have become fantastic mentors, I can visualise an exciting future as a surgeon. I’d actually really enjoyed my surgical rotation in med school, but thought becoming a surgeon was probably too hard a fight, and at that stage I didn’t know if I was willing to fight that hard for a job. I now know that it’s what I want to do, and that the culture for female surgeons is certainly better than it was in the past.

I love the variety in surgery. You see inpatients and outpatients, you see people in clinic, you see people on the ward that you manage throughout the day as well as the surgery itself. There is also a nice balance in general surgery between easy fix things like an appendix, and more complicated stuff like cancers. The multidisciplinary team work is really interesting as well. 

But mostly I love working with people. I’ve had fantastic people where I’ve been working. Eastern Health is renowned for having a really great culture. All day everyday, everybody is learning from each other on so many levels within the hospital. I teach people below me, and the registrars and fellows are teaching us things all the time. 

It's important to be open to ideas, advice, and new learning about yourself and the opportunities that are out there. Don’t be afraid to change direction… in Year 10 I was adamant that I was not going to be a doctor, and just a couple of years ago I was equally adamant that I was not going to be a surgeon!

Whatever your passion is, you should follow that, because if you are doing something everyday that you really enjoy and that interests you then it will keep you happy.