In mid-October the University of Melbourne Medical Students’ Society (UMMSS) elected young Greek-Australian Erene Sakabetis to be the president of their club.
The 24-year-old student is currently completing her third year of her Doctor of Medicine, and is hoping to foster change in her field.
“We do everything from organising events, to student advocacy, to communicating from the medical school department as well,” Ms Sakabetis told Neos Kosmos.
“I’ve been part of the committee now for the last three years in various roles. Now I’ll be overseeing a lot of the committee and I guess be there as a face of the committee, but also a representative of students on various staff panels and things like that.”
During her tenure, Ms Sakabetis wants to put the spotlight on the mental health and wellbeing of med students and make sure that the next generation of Australia’s doctors are taken care of just as well as their future patients will be.
“I think in terms of medicine itself, there’s a lot of challenges in terms of just improving the workforce. I think there’s a lot of things that have been done, but a lot of progression that still needs to be made in terms of treatments and in terms of how we operate in the hospital as well, especially to do with the wellbeing of doctors and the mental health of doctors which is an area I’m quite passionate about.
That’s why I’m also really passionate about the student wellbeing because I think that if we can foster a better environment where people are more open to care about mental health and more willing to have those conversations earlier on in their careers, we’re more likely to be able to change things later down the track,” she explained.
“I think the workforce is really good at giving us time off for injuries and time off for surgery recovery and for physical illness, but when it comes to mental health, that’s almost just as important, but it’s not quite accepted as a reason to take leave.”
Ms Sakabetis’ passion for mental health has also had a great influence on where she sees herself specialising in the future. Although she also has an interest in pursuing the general practitioner pathway, this last year has steered her in a new direction.
“This year we did a few specialty rotations and I found that psychiatry is probably one of the areas that I’m really passionate about. I just find it really interesting and I was quite engaged,” she said.
“I think my favourite aspect will be working with patients and learning people stories because and that’s why I’m so interested in psychiatry as well because you get time to talk to people. It’s not just a 15 minute consultation but you get an hour to talk to someone, for example, and learn their background. There’s so much that happens throughout our lives that really builds the character behind each of us and, and I think learning about people stories is really, really special.”
Throughout her own studies, the future doctor also came to realise the impact of how maintaining a good balance in life will help her become a better practitioner later down the track.
“From when I started, I had quite a narrow view of medicine, and view of the world. I think I expected to be able to immerse myself into medicine and sort of just make that my whole life, but I’ve come to realise that you can’t really do that. That’s not practical, and that this degree is a lot more than just getting a certificate in the end, it’s setting yourself up for a job,” Ms Sakabetis said
“For me, I think it’s really been about prioritising mental health. I think it’s something that I definitely wasn’t very good at when I was younger, but in this career I realised that if I’m not in a good state of mind, then that means that I’m not going to be able to study properly, I’m not going to be able to communicate to people effectively and so I think that was quite an important lesson that I’ve learned, and I’m still learning.”
Like many young Greek-Australians, Ms Sakabetis has unfortunately bared witness to the inevitable issues that come with ageing. While being in and out of hospitals and seeing doctors help her own family members inspired her to take up medicine, it was two very special women in the young woman’s life that have been her own beacon of light.
“As a young Greek woman in a world governed by men, I have been particularly inspired by two incredibly strong women in my life, namely my mum and my grandmother, who I was named after. Both of these women have been present throughout my life and have shown true resilience. Regardless of the struggles that mum and yiayia have had, they both continue to approach the world with a positive view and love,” Ms Sakabetis said.
“I have been inspired by both of these women to live my life to the fullest and take advantage of every opportunity as well as to approach every situation with compassion. If I can grow up to be half the women that these two are andwere, I will consider my life to be successful.”
Ms Sakabetis is excited to continue her degree, which she is slated to wrap up at the end of next year. If you would like to see what UMMSS has planned, you can find their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ummss.au