The Arts Degree
Fast forward to 1986. I have been practising in Bundaberg at the hospital for two years and finding it all a bit mind numbing.
From where I don’t know, I found out that a medical degree gave credit towards an arts degree and, this is a long time ago, it didn’t cost anything to study!
I choose to study English to start with. Now in 1977 when deciding on further study I wanted to be an engineer, having shown some aptitude in maths and sciences. I went to several information evenings where the presenters told us we were all mad and that there was no demand for engineers at all and we should look elsewhere. Not surprisingly I believe there was a shortage of engineers in 1981. I was so keen to try engineering I even applied for a cadetship to work and study part time as an engineer. Months later having by then chosen Medicine as a trade with prospects, I received an acceptance for a cadetship in architecture! I had forgotten by then that a second preference had been required and I’d ticked architecture out of necessity rather than enthusiasm. To the lasting benefit of the industry I declined.
The truth is that without a vocational imperative I would have studied English, but not having the financial backing, courage nor imagination to think of a career to which that would lead, Medicine was scary but secure. The guidance counsellor told me I could apply for a state scholarship to support me from Year One so I applied for Medicine. This turned out to be nonsense and, fortuitously as it turned out, I didn’t get a state scholarship until third year and so only had to work four years in the hospital system.
So here was my chance to study English. External studies at UQ in those days was a joy and a model of efficiency until it was dismantled half way through my degree. You had detailed notes mailed to you, a dedicated library (the Thatcher) at your service, and patient lecturers. Exams were held in regional centres and when you requested books the library would send what you asked for but also added what you should have asked for!
A practical issue was the 50+ hours a week of exhausting work at the hospital. I can only think that since my wife and I were doing the same job we were often alone for long hours while the other was working.