Past Concordian heads to Harvard

Friday 20 Apr

It’s a big step from Concordia Lutheran College to the hallowed halls of Harvard, but it’s a step that James Cook University 2016 medical graduate and PhD candidate Dr Elzerie de Jager is about to take. The incredible opportunity came after she presented a research paper at the 2017 World Congress of Surgery in Basel, Switzerland, where the Director of the Center for Surgery and Public Health was a moderator.

“At the time I thought ‘This is mean, he is asking me all of these hard questions in front of an audience,’” she laughed. 

“Then after the session he approached me and asked if I had ever considered a fellowship in the States and it has grown from there.”

The Toowoomba local will travel to the United States this month to take up her two year research fellowship at the Center of Surgery and Public Health, a joint initiative between Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Dr de Jager will join a team whose research is focused on ethnicity dependent disparities in surgical care. 

“Surgical care should be equitable and available to everyone. If someone has the same surgery as someone else, their outcomes shouldn’t be different just because of their ethnicity. “ 

During the last two years of medical school at JCU, Dr de Jager completed the honours research program and presented her work at several international conferences. 

“I remember my first conference presenting my honours research in Phuket, Thailand. I had never done anything like it before and I remember looking at the door and thinking ‘I can run, there’s still time.’” 

She was thrilled to later win the conference’s ‘Best Young Investigator’ award. 

Since then the former Vice Captain and Dux of Concordia Lutheran College has presented her work nationally and internationally in Taiwan, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland. She also completed surgical elective placements in Latouka, Fiji and Chiang Rai, Thailand. 

The networks she made from her travels helped her to secure an internship at the World Health Organisation (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland where she worked as part of her sixth year elective. Here she contributed to a number of WHO publications and attended the WHO Consultation ‘Setting Priorities for Global Patient Safety’ in Florence, Italy.

The experience with the WHO was an eye-opener for the JCU graduate.

“I didn't fully understand just how many avenues there were until I worked at the WHO and saw how many things you can do with a medical degree, other than being on the wards.” 

After completing her fellowship, Dr de Jager plans to return to Queensland to work as a junior doctor whilst continuing her PhD with JCU. Eventually she would like to pursue a career in general or plastic surgery. She looks forward to learning from surgical leaders in the United States and putting her new skills to practice upon her return to Australia.

 “It's quite funny how everything works out. If you had told me two years ago that I would be going to Harvard I would have laughed at you.” 

Many thanks to James Cook University for sharing this story with us.