From school drop out to top medical degree

Published 6:00am 9 April 2024

From school drop out to top medical degree
Words by Moreton Daily
By Alicia Gutierrez Brown from UniSC

Jamie Bryant never finished high school. In fact, he was kicked out three times. But last week the 40-year-old single father graduated from UniSC Moreton Bay.

To receive a Bachelor of Biomedical Science degree, with a GPA of 6.54, was remarkable for a man bullied, troubled and at odds with academia in his youth.

Jamie lived at Bribie Island, where he has family, while studying at UniSC and is now on the path to becoming a doctor.

All he needed was the right motivation, which came in the form of a tiny, premature baby, given just a slim chance to live.

Soon after starting high school, Jamie’s grandfather died, sending him into a depressive spiral.

"I went through a suicidal phase, and instead of receiving support, I feel the school looked for any way to get me out,” he said. "It was a different era."

He was expelled for the first time and went a total of five high schools but kept finding himself at odds with the system.

I went off the rails

“I was bullied a lot about my lazy eye and that I was overweight, so I’d never really say I had a lot of friends,” he said.

“I just wasn’t meshing well at school and I went off the rails, which led to a second expulsion.”

At 16, Jamie left home and started living in a car, he bought for $350 and halfway houses, until his sister took him in.

He enrolled at another high school but got into a “bit of trouble outside of school” and his bag with an almost-finished assignment was stolen.

Given a chance to work with a friend to rewrite the assignment, he handed it in late and was sent to see the deputy.

“The deputy said they were expelling me because I hadn’t handed in the assignment. It wasn’t anything else, just this one assignment,” Jamie said.

“I pulled it out, threw it on the table, said a few expletives, walked out and that was it, I never went back to school.”

From that point on, Jamie “just started working” as a security guard for many different companies, including at the Woodford Folk Festival and Big Day Out.

Jamie says his children have been the greatest motivation for his success at UniSC

But at 18, he lost his licence for six months for drink driving. After being caught a second time, he could not drive for two-and-a-half years and had to quit his job.

While living in Brisbane, Jamie’s dad – with whom he’d had a difficult relationship – asked if Jamie would move to his new farm in Melbourne and help out.

Jamie settled in Victoria, lifting his income by working as a DJ, eventually branching off on his own with the help of a family friend.

Weddings were his bread and butter, but after a relationship breakdown, he lost enjoyment for the work.

“My life seemed to be falling apart around me. It was hard to work weddings and be joyful and happy for the brides and grooms," he recalled.

Then, "Bonnie" entered the picture. She had been diagnosed with endometriosis and they were told having a baby was ‘the best way to help with her condition’.

“I’d always wanted kids. I wanted a whole football team,” Jamie laughed. Soon they were expecting their first child, a son.

When a routine doctor appointment turned into an emergency preeclampsia diagnosis, Bonnie was rushed to hospital. Cooper was born ten-and-a-half weeks premature, weighing 1040 grams and measuring 30cm.

Life in the balance

Tears still come when Jamie remembers this early, fragile period. "His life was in the balance, I knew it could go either way," he said.

For two months, Jamie drove 90 minutes each way to the hospital to drop off breast milk his partner had pumped at home and spend time with his baby boy.

When Cooper was finally released from hospital, Jamie said it was the “best feeling in the world.”

“I spent as much time as I could with him. I'd take him out in the tractor, I had a little harness I'd sit him in, we’d feed the horses and all that sort of stuff.”

It wasn’t long before a little girl – Monique – was born, thankfully to term, “a big, healthy, fat baby".

Jamie moved his family back to Queensland, where his parents helped them buy a house. But before long, Jamie was a single dad with custody of two kids.

“I took them to school every day and spent so much time with the kids rather than working I ended up selling the house and moving in with my parents,” he said.

Jamie Bryant cradling Cooper, who was born more than 10 weeks premature

Cooper – who has ADHD and autism – was having trouble settling into a school environment.

“He’s a smart kid,” Jamie said, “but I used to get called in a lot as he was causing a bit of trouble.

“I would also go into school a lot to take the kids cupcakes, muffins and caramel slice. Some mothers started to notice and comment what a hands-on dad I was.

“Then as Cooper got used to what was expected at school, he started to behave a lot more and I found myself with a lot of free time."

Cooper's first friend at school was Isla. Because they spent a lot of time together, Jamie became friendly with Isla’s mother, Claudette, a doctor.

“One day Claudette told me, ‘You can become a doctor.’ And I sort of went, ‘nah, I never even finished high school.’ But she insisted I could do it.

"Here was a doctor telling me I could become one. I was making all these excuses like, ‘I won't get into uni, I never finished grade 12. 

"I’ve never done anything. I got kicked out of school, three times! But, she got me thinking.”

Free pathway

Jamie found UniSC’s free Tertiary Preparation Pathway program. He enrolled and completed the four required units, with a grade point average of 6.5 out of 7.

“I found the biology, chemistry and math relatively easy to catch up on, but the academic writing, especially the referencing and research, was difficult,” he said.

“I had to keep reminding myself how much I wanted to get into uni and that was the motivation to put in a lot of time. But it was challenging."

Those efforts paid off when Jamie was accepted into a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at UniSC, studying at the Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast campuses.

He graduated last week and has credited some teachers for his success.

“It didn’t matter how many times I needed something explained, Dr Melinda Dean would explain it in a way I could understand, with a smile on her face,” he said.

“And one of my other teachers, Dr Peter Brooks, has been one of the most dedicated educators I’ve ever seen.”

Biomedical Sciences discipline lead Associate Professor Fraser Russell said a primary key to succeeding in the degree is a willingness to join in class activities.

Jamie Bryant working in the lab at UniSC

"Our teaching teams are passionate about working with students to reveal their full academic potential," Professor Russell said.

"Students such as Jamie show the importance of engagement and resilience. These qualities are helping to develop enthusiastic health professionals of the future."

Beyond the requirements for his degree, Jamie has completed a Special Research Project (SRP) – with a high distinction – and he’s doing another double SRP.

His goal now is an honours, then a PhD or become a GP. The driving motivation for his efforts are his children.

“I hope I'm setting an example for them and anybody else really who is in the same position I was,” Jamie said

“My son goes to school now quoting the things I'm teaching him from uni. I'd get the marker out and I'd write all the bones above where they are on his leg.”

“He was correcting a couple of older ladies at Costco one year around Halloween, saying the skeleton they had up was anatomically incorrect 'cause he was missing that rib, these bones - he was nine years old.

I'm smashing it

“There's a lot of places I feel I could have done better, or where I should have known better but, as I look at it, I'm nearly 40. I've got a 6.5 GPA. I'm smashing it.

“For someone who never finished school, I am doing the best I can.

“I’m doing this for me. It’s my life and I’ve got to make the most of it. Don't be afraid to put your hand up, ask questions, seek help. Don't be afraid to disappoint.

“Everyone knows me because I'm always talking and asking questions, and hopefully if someone else has a stupid question I've asked, it's answered for them too.

“If it wasn’t for my kids Cooper and Monique, my parents Michael and Carol, my friend Dr Claudette Baxter and most of my teachers, especially Dr Melinda Dean and Dr Peter Brooks, I don’t know where I’d be.

“They’ve kept me on the right road and supported me through thick or thin. They’re the ones I have to thank the most.

“I also have to thank Robert and Thu along with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood for allowing me to undertake my special research projects (SRP) with them.”

Reproduced with permission of UniSC

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