Former refugee a step closer to dream of being a doctor

07 Feb 2022

I want to give back to the community and medicine is the best way to do that.

When Soumi Gopalakrishnan was five years old, she had open heart surgery in Sri Lanka and met the doctor who changed her life. 

Not only did he fix her heart, the experience and the people she met inspired her to pursue a career in medicine.  

Now, having finished her Bachelor of Health Science at The Australian National University (ANU), the former refugee is a step closer to fulfilling her dream.  

"The doctor I met that day, who did the surgery, I always wanted to be like him and change someone's life," Gopalakrishnan says. 

"I met a lot of health practitioners during my stay in hospital. I was so interested in medicine because they were just doing everything to the patient to look after them, and then give them the best care possible no matter where you're from, or what your background is.  

"And since then, I've always had an interest in science and how everything works in the human body and how people can be cured." 

Gopalakrishnan and her family fled war in Sri Lanka eight years ago. They travelled to Australia by boat and spent several months living in detention centres before settling in Brisbane. 

She was captain and dux of her college in Brisbane, but university and her dream of being a doctor at one point looked out of reach. 

Asylum seekers are classed as international full-fee paying students, which means they do not have access to HECS-HELP loans and must pay their fees upfront. 

On hearing Gopalakrishnan's story, ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt stepped in and urged her to apply for the ANU Humanitarian Scholarship. The scholarship covered Gopalakrishnan's tuition and accommodation during her undergraduate degree.  

On campus, Gopalakrishnan found a strong sense of community and support from academics including Professor Russell Gruen, Dean of the ANU College of Health and Medicine.  

"I met a lot of people from different backgrounds and it has added to my experience at ANU, learning from different people and also learning from the experts," Gopalakrishnan says. 

Gopalakrishnan says the Bachelor of Health Science was the best pathway for her into medicine and she's onto the next phase of her studies already. She has been accepted to postgraduate studies at the ANU Medical School, continuing to work towards her goal of becoming a rural doctor in Australia, specialising in cardiology. 

"Since I was little, as young as five years old, I always wanted to become a doctor. And that never changed, even during hardship. I always knew I wanted to be in this field and help others. 

"I want to give back to the community and medicine is the best way to do that."  

As she moves onto the next exciting and challenging phase of her journey, Gopalakrishnan has an encouraging message for others who dream of attending university.   

"To those who are graduating with me, I just have to say, we made it! The last two years during the pandemic, it was a lot of struggle but we still made it through. 

"But those who are starting university or want to start university but can't see that happening, please don't give up. There are a lot of opportunities that you might not know exist, but make connections and through your connections you will be able to achieve your dreams, no matter what."