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8 March 2022

Breaking through barriers

Breaking through barriers

Iranian-born Dr Rozita Parnian feels a sense of pride when she sees a female surgeon leading the way at work.

“It’s really empowering. I feel proud even though I'm not in her team,” says Dr Parnian, who migrated to Australia with her two older brothers in 2012, seeking asylum.

Seeing strong, capable women with family responsibilities make their way in male-dominated medical specialties allows Dr Parnian to picture the same future for herself one day.

 “In Iran, men are always 100 steps above women. That's true for any kind of situation. It doesn't matter whether it's education, the workplace, trying to get any kind of legal rights,” she says.  “You have equal rights and equal access to everything here in Australia. I think sometimes people take it for granted. Although it’s been hard, I still feel happy and feel lucky to be here.”

Dr Parnian started her internship at Townsville University Hospital in January. That she would graduate from James Cook University with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in 2021 was almost unimaginable to her 10 years earlier as a Brisbane high school student struggling with language barriers.

“I thought, ‘I know a bit of English and it's not going to be a problem’. I knew some English in terms of American English. But then when I came to Australia, it was so different because people were talking in a different kind of accent,” she says.

 “I wanted to become a doctor since I was a child and then, all of a sudden, I was here in Australia and I wasn't even able to talk in the language, let alone study medicine. I found myself in a position that my dreams had shattered so I had a difficult time during the first year, trying to accept the reality that it would be hard for me to get into medicine. But then I thought maybe just start from zero, study English and try to do my best to get into medicine.

“I had subjects that didn't require much English, like maths, physics, chemistry and accounting. I did well in all of them and got the OP I needed. But it was hard in a different system and a totally different environment.”

As a temporary visa holder, Dr Parnian was considered a full fee-paying international student. With scholarships from James Cook University and AMA Queensland, and her brothers working to help support her financially, she completed the six-year JCU medical degree.

“It was the JCU and AMA scholarships that helped me to be able to continue,” she says. “It has been tough throughout the whole 10 years that I've been here but I'm just hoping that now that I am a doctor, I can support my family a little bit. Now it's my turn.

“I've got a few other goals in mind in terms of helping others in my situation to get empowered and do their best to not give up, and not to just sit and wait. If I had sat and waited for the government to decide on my refugee visa, it's 10 years now already.”

After a decade of refugee visa applications, she remains on a temporary visa and now plans to apply for a skilled migrant visa.

Settling into the busy general surgery rotation, Dr Parnian is looking forward to being involved in the peer support group Northern Queensland Regional Training Hubs (NQRTH) has set up to link international medical students at JCU with current interns who graduated as international fee-paying students.

“I'm really happy to help anybody who needs help,” she says. “I try to be friendly so people don't feel shy to approach.”

NQRTH Program Manager Andrea Muller said the peer support group was established to help the many international fee-paying students who found it stressful to navigate the Intern Campaign and the complexities of having to apply both interstate and in Queensland.

“Often these students have little to no family support network in Australia so the process is stressful and an emotional time for them while completing their final year of medical school,” Ms Muller says. “They need to prepare competitive CVs and then attend interviews with multiple hospitals. By connecting current interns, who were last year’s graduating international fee-paying students, with current international fee-paying students, we are providing these doctors and students with a chance to connect, share their stories and reassure them that in the end, they will receive an intern position.”

NQRTH has hosted an Intern information session and will be providing further sessions including CV Preparation and Interview Tips and Tricks as well as various sessions about wellbeing and resilience.

Dr Parnian says reaching for small goals paved the way to her big goals of getting into and finishing medical school. “It was a challenge. A lot of the times, I thought, ‘I can't do this, it's a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility and it's so hard.’ It's important that you believe in your dreams and abilities. If you have some goals and a purpose in life, and if you put a little bit of effort every day into it to reach your goal, then eventually you’ll get there.”

Rural placements in Charters Towers and Sarina during medical school gave Dr Parnian a taste of country hospitality, while her final-year term in Mareeba made her a more confident intern. “Being a sixth-year medical student in a rural setting, they treat you as a junior doctor, so I was able to practise a lot of internship jobs,” she says. “I feel like that rural placement made me very confident and prepared for internship. People in rural and remote areas are real. Their friendship and their kindness are different. You feel it.

“I wanted to stay in Townsville because I feel like this city has given me a lot of things and it was my turn to give it back to the community. I wanted to start here to be able to give the kindness that I received from the community to the same community."

"I haven't decided what I want to become next because I want to have my options open. As I progress through internship and experience working in different departments, then I can have a better idea of what fits best for me.”

The theme of International Women’s Day 2022 is Break the Bias: “Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.”

James Cook University is proud to support the Northern Queensland Regional Training Hubs program. We are a medical training network integrating private and public hospitals and health services, GP clinics and James Cook University. We collaborate to provide doctors in training with unique medical training opportunities from intern to fellowship in Northern Queensland while enjoying the lifestyle that only this part of Australia can offer.

Find out more about General Surgery training

> Entry requirements
> Training Time
> How to apply
> Frequently asked questions


NQRTH is an initiative of the Australian Government's Integrated Rural Training Pipeline (IRTP) and is facilitated by James Cook University in partnership with public and private hospitals, Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC), health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and GP clinics.

Cairns region
(07) 4226 8187

Central West region
(07) 4764 1547

Mackay region
(07) 4885 7122

North West region
(07) 4764 1547

Torres and Cape region
(07) 4095 6103

Townsville region
(07) 4781 3424