UOW medical student combines passion for healthcare and literacy

Teaching the next generation.

We interviewed Shoalhaven student Alexia Paglia about her pathway into medicine and promoting healthy habits for kids through literacy.

When Alexia Paglia left high school, she knew she wanted to work in healthcare but wasn't sure exactly how. She began studying a Bachelor of Medical Science and Bachelor of Business at the University of Technology Sydney, followed by a Graduate Diploma in Health and Medical Science at Notre Dame.  

While at university, Alexia worked as a Study Coordinator at Chris O'Brian Lifehouse, guiding patients through clinical trials, which confirmed her desire to pursue medicine.  

"I felt most comfortable when I was with people, and that naturally lent itself to a career in medicine," Alexia says.  

This led her to the University of Wollongong (UOW) Graduate School of Medicine, where she is currently studying a Doctor of Medicine. She was drawn to UOW for its rounded approach to healthcare.  

"UOW attracted me because they believe in creating a holistic doctor, someone who is immersed in the community and up to date with the latest literature," Alexia said.  

"There is also a huge focus on rural healthcare, which I am particularly passionate about," she adds.  

Studying in Shoalhaven   

Alexia is currently studying at the Shoalhaven campus, where she spends most of her time, aside from a day each week at the Wollongong campus. She appreciates the smaller cohort and has found that it's enhanced her experience.   

"Everyone is keen to interact and support each other, even beyond class," she says.  

Alexia speaks highly of the staff for offering students an immersive study experience.  

"They are so passionate and want to help. They are conscious that we're distanced physically from the rest of the cohort, so they often organise lecturers to come to Shoalhaven," she shares.  

She explains the staff even offer morning sessions, separate from regular classes, to support student learning.  

Originally from Sydney, Alexia now lives in Gerringong with classmates, which has made the move away from home that little bit easier.  

"We have created such a nice little community here, even beyond studying. There are run clubs and societies."  

My Healthy Heart   

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Alexia witnessed firsthand the widespread lack of understanding about basic health concepts, leading to confusion, fear, and misinformation. This inspired her to write a children's book to improve health literacy.   

"Sixty per cent of the Australian population has poor health literacy, leading to poorer health outcomes, especially in vulnerable communities," she noted.  

"I love writing, medicine, and education. Writing a children's book seemed like a perfect way to combine my passions and make a positive impact."  

"I can tackle the health literacy problem by advocating positive health behaviours in the years you absorb it most."   

"It was this beautiful intersection between everything I love."   

Working with Greenhill Publishing, Alexia brought her idea to life. Her debut book, My Strong Heart, features characters based on her, her brother, and their dog, with illustrations by Ada Rovai.   

"My wonderful illustrator was flooded with thousands of pictures of my dog. I took obsessed dog owner to new heights," she laughs.  

This project is just the beginning. She hopes to create a series educating children on different organs, systems, and common diseases.  

Looking to the future 

Between studying medicine and working on her books, you would ask how she manages the workload of both. Alexia says she genuinely loves putting time and effort into her studies and her books, and it's never something she had to 'fit in'.   

"It sounds so cliche, but when you're passionate about something, it often doesn't feel like a chore when you do it," she adds.   

And when passion isn't enough to get through the tough times, Alexia reminds students to lean on friends and family.   

"I think there probably was a time when I thought I could do it all unassisted and realised very quickly that we thrive most when we're supported by people that genuinely care about us," she says.   

Parting wisdom  

She urges undergraduate students considering a medical career to connect with older students if they have questions about the process.   

"The students are such a good resource. I know myself and anyone in my course would be happy to lend some advice or go for a coffee to chat about things they might need to get on the right path."   

The process of applying to medical school is rigorous. It considers the GPA, the GAMSAT, the CASPER test, and the submission of a comprehensive portfolio of achievements. This is followed by an interview assessing personality and judgment in various ethical scenarios.  

"It's important not to get disheartened if you didn't get in on the first try. Many of us don't," she says.   

With three more years of study ahead of her, Alexia is still determining which area of medicine she will specialise in, but she is enjoying learning about all the disciplines. However, she is certain that her career will involve a lifetime of study.   

"We always joke that we will be back and back for more study," she finishes.