When you think of studying medicine, you might think of interns in scrubs who spend the best part of their twenties studying and training to become doctors.
While this is the traditional career path, more and more medical professionals are choosing to follow alternate pathways within and outside of health care.
Enter Cara Fox: self-confessed math nerd, scuba diver, powerlifter and trained medical doctor who, with an eye for the bigger picture, has chosen to take the path less travelled.
After completing a medicine degree in 2013 and working as a doctor for a few years, Cara decided to explore her passion for economics by studying a Graduate Certificate in Economic Studies – a 1 semester (full-time) program that provides training in the fundamentals of microeconomics, macroeconomics and statistics for people looking to upskill or advance their careers.
Fast forward to today and Cara is combining her background in medicine and studies in economics with business and tech as the Partnerships Manager for AMBOSS, a medical tech company based in Berlin.
But let’s rewind for a second and tell the whole story.
Born and raised in Toowoomba, just an hour and a half out of Brisbane, Cara was a model student at high school, topping a number of her subjects while somehow managing to fit in a range of extracurricular activities – swimming, water polo, tennis, debating and flute to name a few.
While she both enjoyed and excelled at the medicine-feeder subjects (chemistry, maths and physics), studying medicine wasn’t always written in the stars for Cara. Instead, she dreamed of being up among them.
“I wanted to be an astronaut at one point! But otherwise, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do or be after high school. Medicine was an option, but I was never 100% sure,” Cara said.
After high school, she took a year off to try to figure it all out and, after some travel overseas, found herself teaching English in a tiny town in the Jiangsu province in China. With little Mandarin and only a phrasebook in hand, Cara was forced outside of her comfort zone.
“Looking back, I don’t know how 18-year-old me survived that experience, but I did, and it was amazing... yet I still didn’t know what I wanted to study.
“I had applied for medicine and science and was looking at doing maths and physics. I got accepted into both, but was flipping coins until the very last minute to help make my mind up.”
Finally opting to study medicine at Monash University in Melbourne, Cara began what was just the first chapter in her career.
“I realised early on that I didn’t want to practise medicine in the long-term. I was interested in the bigger picture of health care, which is what led me to economics,” she said.
“What I love about economics is that big picture overview. Economics is about creating and improving existing systems so that they work in the best possible way to provide the most benefit given the resources and funding.”
On completion of the postgraduate studies in economics at UQ, Cara started looking for other opportunities outside of being a doctor.
But it wasn’t an easy leap to take.
“Once I was working as a doctor there’s a very obvious career pathway and leaving it was harder than I expected, even though I always knew I would.
“It’s about realising that changing careers or taking a non-traditional pathway within a career is okay, and that you will still use the knowledge, skills and experience you’ve gained along the way.
“And it doesn’t matter how old you are or how long it takes. I’ve seen people who start medicine in their forties and fifties, and they love it. Your journey is your own.”
Cara found the role at AMBOSS through a Facebook group for medical professionals pursuing alternative careers and felt that mixing health with business development was the perfect opportunity to do something a bit different while leveraging her existing skills.
“AMBOSS is an online learning platform for medical students to study and learn material. It’s used by 95% of German medical students studying for their final exams and it’s my job to bring the platform to Australia,” she said.
“It was the ideal role as I’ve been a med student and understand all of the pain points of studying, and obviously I have a unique understanding of the Australian market."
The economics comes in handy too.
“Studying economics has helped me in this role as it’s given me a greater understanding of how things work from a business perspective, for example, how a digital tool can be used to enhance a system, which in this case is medical education.
“I use the statistics I learned in the program a lot day-to-day and microeconomics has been really valuable in terms of understanding how things relate to the company.”
But studying economics has given a lot more to Cara than just tools to help in her work.
“The most valuable thing I gained from the program is a deeper understanding of the way the world works – that there are limited resources and different ways to get the most out of them, and that can pretty much be applied to anything, whether it’s medicine, tech, business, or life."
“Macroeconomics, in particular, has given me the ability to both understand and speak intelligently about politics and world issues – so don’t get me started!”