Steven Sisifa and Medical School

After reading our story on Dr Tu’uhevaha Kaitu’u-Lino, Steven (Veni) Sisifa wrote to us in the hope of encouraging more people to pursue a career in medicine. As young Pacific people, many of us dream of growing up to become a doctor, only to be let down by a society that makes us feel as if we’re incapable of reaching such heights. Well Steven, along with many others, are living proof that it is possible, and isn’t just for the minority. It’s for those of us who aren’t afraid to dream big, and put in the hard work and sacrifice required. We hope his story broadens your perception of medicine and academia in general, and inspires you to follow your dream, however big it may be. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, medical school, and why you wanted to become a doctor?

My name is Veni Sisifa, I’m 25, and I’m a Tongan from Melbourne but have been living and studying in Canberra for almost three years. I’m in my third year of medical school, and looking forward to graduating at the end of next year as an accredited junior doctor. I’m now completing rotations in the hospital wards, and have done placements in general practice and paediatrics.

The aim of medical school is to prepare students in becoming competent, caring, and safe junior doctors in the hospital and community. Naturally, this involves intense theoretical and practical studies in the diagnosis and management of a wide range of illnesses. For all the interesting things we learn, it does take a lot of hard work – lots of long days, late nights, and the business in between. It’s a daunting proposition by any stretch, but, I’ve been told, an immensely rewarding one in the end.

I suppose that’s a small part of why I wanted to become a doctor – my fascination with the interminably complex machine that is our body, and how, at times, things can go terribly wrong. But perhaps most importantly, I wanted to pursue medicine because you are dealing with people at their most vulnerable, and by extension, they ultimately put their trust in you to help them. No one should be under any illusions as to how huge a responsibility that is – and therefore, it is not for everyone – but it’s a challenge I personally relish, and one in which I continue to find fulfilment and thrive as a person.

What have been the biggest challenges in your studies?

The study load goes without saying, but I find that actually applying that “textbook” knowledge to the sick patient to be the most challenging thing. To approach all medical decisions in a strictly pragmatic way would be a huge disservice to patients, as everyone is different – different in biology, social circumstances, and many other things. The adage that “patients aren’t diseases” is one I continue to grapple with every day.

The other challenge is finding time for yourself. I enjoy doing so many things outside of medicine – I love playing video games, or kicking back with a TV show. Although these are things I’ve had to sacrifice to some degree, finding the time to indulge in these luxuries is so important sometimes.

Steven Sisifa_Talanoa

What motivates you to push forward with all that you do? 

I’m lucky to be in an environment that affords me amazing opportunities to learn how to help people in such a meaningful way. That by itself is enough motivation to get out of bed every morning and keep slogging at it. But I must mention that not every day is a life-changing experience – like most things in life – and the enormous amounts of energy to get through the day can be exhausting and, at times, demoralising.

I guess that’s where my other motivation comes in – my family. They’re not with me in the flesh, and I miss them every day, but knowing that I have their unconditional support is tremendously comforting at the worst times. And I guess a little part of me knows that I owe them at least my very best – my parents who had half the opportunities I now have, and my siblings who have always been there.

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What advice do you have for young Pacific people who might be thinking of doing the same thing?

Whether it’s medicine or not, simply do what you enjoy doing! I was never a great student in high school or university, and didn’t have any special sets of skills, but I always tried my best, worked hard, and found a lot of enjoyment in learning new things.

But my best advice would be this: we Pacific Islanders are unique. Our ancestors were people of the land and sea – they travelled across vast oceans, cultivated massive fields, and lived with integrity and this innately passionate work ethic. We are blessed with natural musical talent, and limitless sporting prowess. We are an inherently nurturing, caring, and selfless people with great humour and spirit. It’s for these reasons that we would truly make the most outstanding doctors – with our steady and skilful hands in the surgical theatre, our lame jokes in the paediatric ward, or our warm presence in the room of the dying patient. So if you’re thinking of medicine, you have no reason to doubt yourself or think that you’re “not good enough” – just always remember these wonderful gifts we’ve been blessed with, don’t be afraid, and give it absolutely everything.

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We’d like to thank Steven for sharing his story with us! If you’re considering a career in medicine, or would like to get in touch with Steven, you can contact him via the links below. We wish him all the best in his pursuit of his dream and we are excited to see what the future has in store for him.  

Facebook: Steven Sisifa
Instagram: @veni_sisifa
Email: steve.sisifa@gmail.com

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Arieta Tora Rika is a Tongan-Fijian Freelance Writer, Digital Communications Specialist, and Talanoa’s Founder and Creative Director. Born in Darlinghurst in the late 80s, she spent most of her childhood in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, and all of her teen years in Tonga. She now lives in Western Sydney with her husband Josese.