"The Switch! From Olympics to Oncology": Monique’s incredible Career Switch!


Monique Heinke

It's not often you get to meet an Olympian, so when we met Monique Heinke when Jessica Symes' was delivering her keynote "Exam Preparation: The Sprint and the Marathon" we were intrigued. Two tough fields elite sport and medecine, how does Monique do it and what advice does she have for Symes Report readers? Barbara Harvey finds out some great tips.

How did you get involved in rowing and where did that take you?

I started rowing in my final year of my undergraduate science degree. A friend suggested I should try rowing as I am tall (6 foot 3 or 1.9m), so decided to give it a go before leaving university. Initially I rowed at club level, aspiring to race at the National Championships. As I continued to improve and got faster my goals changed and I set my sights on being selected on the Australian Rowing team to race at the World Championships and eventually the Olympic Games. I made my first National Team in 1999 and competed at the Sydney and Athens Olympics in 2004 in the Womens’ quad sculls and eight respectively.

When did you decide to make the switch to medicine and why?

By 2004, I had decided I would retire from rowing. There were a number of reasons: I was getting older and wasn’t sure I wanted to keep competing at that level for another 4 years; I was married and being away from home 3 or more months away from home each year was tough; and I felt it was time to move on and develop new skills and knowledge. In addition, I knew I needed to do something to focus my attention and energies on once I’d retired from rowing. I had become interested in medicine during my science degree when I had studied some medical subjects and found them very interesting. So I sat GAMSAT (the entrance test for postgraduate medicine) in the lead up to selection trials for the Athens Olympics, applied for and gained a place at Sydney University.

What was involved in making that switch?

I talked to friends and colleagues from previous work places about switching to medicine including studying and working in medicine; being a mature aged student/junior doctor; and working in medicine as a mum (I’d had my first child by the time I started my medical degree). The application process involved an exam as well as an interview. This was followed by 4 years of studying at university, then two to three years of work as a junior doctor. The study and learning continues. I am now a 4th year registrar in radiation oncology at Liverpool Hospital and will be sitting more (and my final) exams in 2018.

Does this new role/industry give you more purpose and if so why?

My new path gives me a different purpose. Rowing, was very much goal driven for myself and my crew. Working as a doctor, is less about my goals and achievements (although these are still important to get through the rigorous training program), but is more about providing the best care for my patients. I try to think of my patients as a whole person, taking into account their individual circumstances in order to give the best care for them. In addition, there are many skills I developed as a rower that are applicable to working as a doctor – teamwork, dedication, and communication to name a few.

Why Oncology?

I am currently training to be a radiation oncologist. I became interested in this specialty during my resident year and contacted a number of the departments in Sydney and meet with radiation oncologists and spent time in clinics. The radiation oncologists I met were inspiring people with an interest in clinical practice as well as teaching and research to improve patient care and outcomes. Radiation oncology is a great mix of clinical work, technology and opportunities for research. Oncology is a challenging specialty, but being able to help people and their families through such a trying time is rewarding.

What advice do you have for others about to make a switch?

Work out where you want to be in 1, 5 and 10 years

Gather as much information as possible about the new field

Talk to people working in the new area or who have made the switch

I started rowing in my final year of my undergraduate science degree. A friend suggested I should try rowing as I am tall (6 foot 3 or 1.9m), so decided to give it a go before leaving university. Initially I rowed at club level, aspiring to race at the National Championships. As I continued to improve and got faster my goals changed and I set my sights on being selected on the Australian Rowing team to race at the World Championships and eventually the Olympic Games. I made my first National Team in 1999 and competed at the Sydney and Athens Olympics in 2004 in the Women's’ quad sculls and eight respectively.

Ph: 1300 657 934  

M: +61 403 363 257

jessica@symesgroup.com.au

PO Box 5192 Greenwich NSW 2065

Symes Group Pty Ltd trading as Jessica Symes Toomey.

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