A tribute to...

Dr Maryanne Balanzategui

Published: 1/12/2022
“We formed an odd trio” ... Dr Peter Morris (right) and Maryanne Balanzategui met as mature age medical students and teamed up with young medical student Dylan.
“We formed an odd trio” ... Dr Peter Morris (right) and Maryanne Balanzategui met as mature age medical students and teamed up with young medical student Dylan.

It was almost 11 years ago that I first met Maryanne, a week before we started on our journey of studying medicine at James Cook University in Townsville and becoming doctors. It was at a barbecue that had been organised for the 'mature' aged students, as we are called.  

The following week was orientation week and Maryanne and I were maybe not so coincidentally teamed up together in our little "mentoring" group. It was then that the reality of what we were embarking on set in, we were surrounded by a sea of young faces, 17 and 18-year olds, mostly fresh from high school and then there was us. Maryanne not surprisingly, took line honours of being the oldest student in the year, but while the oldest in years she certainly brought more drive, energy and passion than most of the other students.  

The age gaps didn't matter though on that first orientation day, as we met Dylan, one of those young faced 17-year olds. We formed an odd trio, the mum, the new dad and the 17-year old school leaver. Dylan likes to remind us that after about a year of being at uni together someone asked him if we were his parents! I'm not quite sure how Maryanne took that and to be honest I'm still not sure how I feel about that comment!  

Before the first day of uni, Maryanne had already done so much in preparation, she had left her job and previous career in Melbourne, moved to Townsville with her daughters Eliza and Molly, found a new home to live in, found a new school for her girls and was readjusting to her new life as a medical student while Andrew at that stage continued working in Melbourne. Such was Maryanne's desire to be a doctor and her determination to succeed.  

We spent lots of time together and over this time Maryanne and I formed a close bond, our similar backgrounds in nursing somewhat formulated our opinions of a good doctor, but those formative experiences also drove our combined passion for quality health care particularly in rural and remote areas ultimately driving Maryanne's desire to be a rural generalist doctor.  

I recall our first rural clinical placement together as second year medical student; it was in Bowen hospital. Maryanne and I were staying in the allocated uni share house that was right across the road from the hospital. As Maryanne liked to partake in a good alcoholic beverage, an activity we frequently shared, our first stop was the bottle shop. However, we had been strictly advised by the uni to not have alcohol in the house.  

We figured that rule didn't really apply to we sensible mature aged students, but thought it best we keep a low profile. So, in full view of the hospital we thought it better to sneak it up the back steps, arms loaded with cases of beer and a few bottles of wine under the cover of darkness.  

A few days later we were notified of a spot inspection that was going to happen the next day and that we had to keep all the rooms open so that they could all be inspected while we were not present. So first thing that following morning all the alcohol went back out to the boot of the car and rapid clean of the share house was done.  

We both laughed when we received a little handwritten note to say that it was the cleanest medical student accommodation they had ever inspected. Maryanne did like to keep a tidy house after all.  

Together we struggled with balancing being a medical student and eventually the demands of being a junior doctor with the needs of parenting and life. While many students went home to a cooked meal and a clean house and parents to care for them, Maryanne and I returned to our families as the partner and parent with all the additional responsibilities that entails.  

The time commitments in studying to become a doctor are significant, ongoing pressure of exams, assignments, and clinical placements and after six years of Uni there's still more training and exams. Maryanne and I spent so much time together studying that Andrew affectionately named me her second husband. Through all this, Maryanne always seemed to be able to balance her commitments in medicine with those of being a mum and a wife, she was always ducking off to get to the girls' sports carnival or other event, planning weekends away and always looking forward to their next overseas adventure together. Maryanne did not waste a minute of her life. Yes medicine required an extraordinary level of commitment, but Maryanne made sure that every available waking minute was dedicated to her family and friends - nothing was put-off 'till later. It was all packed in.  

I think it was these life experiences both personally and professionally, her family, her passion for life and fair go that formulated the foundation to her natural empathy, kindness and compassion and ability to relate to her patients that is sometimes not often seen in other doctors.  

Maryanne wasn't just my colleague she was my friend and became a friend to so many students. It was a friendship bonded through challenges and tough times, through laughter and jokes, through achievement, and most importantly through joy and happiness. We will remember her beautiful smile, her grit and determination, her passion for patient advocacy and a fair go and her ability to give you absolute shit when you weren't expecting it, but also be able to take it on the chin just as easily.  

As I continue this journey of medicine that we both started together, she will always be by my side. Her tenacity, commitment to family, passion for life and desire to make a difference will always be an inspiration to me and others.  

I am so thankful and lucky to have had her as my friend.    

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