Graduating top of the University of Auckland’s medical school was particularly meaningful for former nurse and mother-of-two young children Dr Christi Bowern, who completed her degree while raising her family.
She has been named the Rotary Club Most Distinguished Medical Graduate of the Year for the best academic performance in the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree.
Christi (35) began studying at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences when her daughter was two and gave birth to her second child midway through her studies. She completed the five-year degree without any extensions, and at the top of her class.
“Completing this degree has been quite a journey,” says Dr Bowern, whose children are now seven and three.
“There were times that were pretty stressful: if the kids did not sleep or were sick, my partner was travelling, or something happened back home,” she says.
Originally from Canada, Christi and her husband Colin fell in love with New Zealand after honeymooning here. A few years later Christi was accepted to study medicine at Auckland and promptly packed up the family, including a two-year-old, and moved half-way across the world.
Although she became a doctor later in life, Christi has always worked in healthcare. Her first job was in a retirement home as an aged care assistant, and over the years she expanded her career as a nurse, before becoming a nurse practitioner in a busy emergency department at Toronto General Hospital.
“My path into medicine was not as direct as most but I gained valuable clinical experience along the way,” she says.
“While I have less autonomy as a junior doctor than I did as a nurse practitioner, my background enables me to take on challenges others may feel less comfortable with. The foundational knowledge means I spent less time memorising, and more time understanding how to apply concepts taught in med school.”
Determined not to suffer from ‘mom guilt’, Christi says the support she received from her husband and friends, and the playdates with other parents helped her through.
“Central to pursuing medicine was the decision to always put our family first. I tried to get most work done during the day so I could spend time with the family at night,” she says.
Using the University day care service meant she was able to feed and see her infant son Oliver in between lectures and clinical runs.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child and we certainly are thankful for the help we had from others,” Christi says. “But the reality is to become a doctor you need to put in the effort, and with young children and the nights of interrupted sleep, it was hard work.”
Christi plans to remain in New Zealand and is working as a house officer in Auckland City Hospital. She hopes to specialise in paediatric emergency medicine.
“As a doctor I realise what a privilege it is to care for others and support them on their health journey.”