From job juggler to jaw surgeon
Carli Westmore was juggling casual jobs ranging from cleaning to childcare when she was accepted into Open Foundation at the University of Newcastle.
Although she wanted to become a surgeon, specialising in oral reconstruction, Westmore left school at the age of 15 to help support her family. Of Aboriginal descent, she was one of seven siblings and three foster children, all of whom were home-schooled by her mother.
Westmore described her mother as a remarkably supportive and skilful woman, who still fosters sick babies and nurses them back to health. "My Mum and Dad broke up when I was about 12 years old and that left the family in quite difficult financial conditions."
Within a few years, Westmore had to give up schooling and do whatever jobs she could find to help her family survive.
Living in Jervis Bay, she did various jobs including floristry and restaurant work. She managed to get a Year 10 school certificate through TAFE, but could not figure out how she would get the qualifications to enable her to apply for medical school. "No-one in my family had ever been to university," she explained.
Westmore was 22 years old when a family friend told her about the Open Foundation program offered at the University. She was accepted into the six-month, full-time, intensive program.
"It is a bit nerve wracking going to university when you have not finished schooling," Westmore said. "But it is an adult learning environment and you get to be self-directed. They have highly motivated and engaging teachers who are able to bring you up to university level. My teachers were fantastic."
Once she had done Open Foundation, she completed a Bachelor of Oral Health degree through the University and graduated as a dental hygienist. Now this exuberant young woman is a second-year medical student and getting closer to her goal of becoming a maxillofacial surgeon. These specialists repair and correct injuries and defects of the head, neck, face, mouth and jaws and require dual dental and medical qualifications.
Her awareness of how critical oral surgery can be was sparked by her own painful experiences. Westmore explained that as a child she needed dental surgery to reconstruct her upper jaw, which stopped growing. Because her family could not afford private dental care, Westmore had to turn to the almost non-existent state dental system and wait 15 years for an operation.
In the interim, Westmore met several very caring medical and dental clinicians and an orthodontic registrar who inspired her dream of becoming a maxillofacial surgeon. "Becoming a ‘Max Fax’ combines the best of medicine and dentistry and will allow me to help other people who have similar problems to mine."
Westmore finally had the operation to correct her jaw last year. "I had my upper jaw split on a number of different planes and the bones separated out by about one and a half centimetres." She is still undergoing corrective orthodontic treatment. "I think having gone through this will make me more understanding of my patients when I finally qualify as a surgeon."
Find out more about the Open Foundation program.