Friday 10 December 2021 11:37am
Malisa Mulholland with her sons Harry and Freddie.
Malisa Mulholland is too modest to call herself a trailblazer but the final stages of her Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBChB) certainly paved the way for other medical students to follow in her footsteps.
Christchurch-based Malisa, who’s due to graduate with her ‘Class of 2021’ cohort in absentia this month, is only the second University of Otago, Christchurch medical student to have completed the final trainee intern (TI) year of the degree part-time, spread over two years instead of just one.
“The opportunity to study part-time meant I could do what worked best for my family. In our case that was having me at home to look after Freddie when he was first born, as well as being able to get Harry happily settled into school. For other students what works will be different – but having the ability to choose makes a huge impact on improving work-life balance”.
She was given the go-ahead due to family reasons – having welcomed her second son Freddie on New Year’s Eve 2019, a younger brother to then four-year-old Harry. Malisa was able to take maternity leave during her TI year and then gradually return to full-time study - coming back part-time in 2020 and building up to fulltime study in 2021 in order to fulfill the academic demands required.
“It was structured in a very flexible way to make it work for me, yet graduate in a timely way without it being dragged out further. It allowed me to still have that quality time with the kids, yet complete all the assignments and tests required and learn what I needed to become a competent doctor.”
Malisa says being able to complete the TI year part-time at the Christchurch campus made a massive difference to her work-life balance
“I am grateful to the Christchurch Medical School for supporting flexible study options. The opportunity to study part-time meant I could do what worked best for my family. In our case that was having me at home to look after Freddie when he was first born, as well as being able to get Harry happily settled into school. For other students what works will be different – but having the ability to choose makes a huge impact on improving work-life balance”.
That ability to more easily juggle those demands meant her marks remained strong and her learning on-track. So much so that Malisa was awarded two prizes last month, The 2021 Sir Thaddeus McNaughton Prize in Surgery and the 2021 Australian & New Zealand College of Anesthetists Prize.
Dr Tania Huria, UOC’s Associate Dean of Student Affairs, says Malisa’s success is an absolute credit to her attitude and strength of purpose.
“Malisa is a strong, phenomenal woman who worked extremely hard to succeed. She should be very proud of herself. She’s a fabulous example of how supporting a student through the medical programme by offering a more personalized pathway not only supports them individually, but ultimately the health system as a whole.
“For us, it’s about supporting student retention and investing in diversity – offering flexibility to student parents to help case-manage them through that final year. We worked with all the runs to come up with a package that works on an administrative level. The students themselves need to be self-directed and autonomous to make it work, liaising with the runs themselves to ensure they meet the course demands and learning objectives required.”
Dr Huria says a further two students are now returning to finish the TI course at UOC part-time.
Malisa’s path to medicine has been a more protracted one and she admits her student loan is “huge” as a result. Raised in Porirua, she first graduated from Victoria university with a double degree in Law and Biomedical Science (LLB(hons), BBMedSci). After a short stint as a law clerk she decided to apply to the University of Otago’s medical programme under the ‘Allied or Other’ category, colloquially known as the ‘Super grad’ pathway. Once accepted, it ushered in a further five (now six) years of study.
“I’m not going to lie and say it’s been an easy road” says Malisa. “It’s been a big effort and my full time house surgeon years ahead will no doubt present new challenges. But I’m very proud of my family, especially my partner Wing, for continuing to support me along the way. I’m also happy to see the progress that the medical school has made in its support for student parents.”
She is especially keen to thank Dr Huria, the Associate Dean of Medical Education at UOC Dr Lutz Beckert, former UOC Dean of Student Affairs Dr Jan McKenzie and Diane Taylor and her course administrative team at the Christchurch campus for establishing the part-time TI pathway and for supporting her so well through it. She says it did create extra work for staff but that they never complained and went the extra mile to make it all work for her.
“I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with the idea that I am providing an example for other mothers wanting to study medicine – because this is a very personal decision and I think we need to support each other to do whatever works. But what I will say is that I hope I have helped to show that it is possible to successfully introduce flexibility into the medical curriculum and that the Christchurch School of Medicine is keen to support this. I would encourage other students to discuss their individual needs with Student Affairs so that we can continue to make progress in this space.”
Malisa begins her House Officer role at the CDHB in January 2022.