Liam Clifford: even busier than your average med student

Monday 16 January, 2017

If your stereotypical medical student doesn’t have time for anything apart from university, then 25-year old Liam Clifford just isn’t that guy. While he’s been studying hard for seven years at UNSW – three years of medical science, first class honours the following year, and then three years of undergraduate medicine after that – this Warrane resident manages to fit in a whole lot more.

We’re talking lots of chess, and even more reading – after all, how many med students do you know who also collect classic literature, read an average of 50 books a year, and then go on to critique them on  a personal blog? Add in soccer (including coaching, managing and playing for the UNSW team, mind you!), plus a casual game of touch footy here and there with fellow Warrane residents, and you’ve got yourself one very busy bloke.

Perhaps he hasn’t always been this busy though, because Liam, along with his younger brother and sister, grew up in laidback Coffs Harbour, where his parents run a pool business. It was in this setting that his interest for medicine was first piqued, after an accident at the age of 13.

“My left leg broke in three places,” said Liam. “I had lots of complicated surgeries... and I guess I was just really lucky because Coffs had just upgraded its hospital. It’s one of the best in Australia; you have world-class orthopaedic surgeons flying in on a regular basis. So for my family and myself, given that Coffs is kind of rural in terms of access to health and stuff, I was very lucky. So that sort of started my interest in medicine.”

Liam was also lucky when it came to parents - his dad is who inspires him to give his all to his studies. “Even with a difficult background, he’s an inspiration to the whole family but particularly me because of how hard he works; how much he looks out for the family,” he said. “Everything is always about someone else and never about himself. His relationships are built on trust and integrity... It’s sort of what’s pushed me to study and work hard at uni, given that I know the hardships he’s been through and the sacrifices he’s made for us.”

 

During his studies, Liam has been living at Warrane – so it’s a good thing that he loves it. “Oh, it’s fantastic,” he said. “Throughout my seven years here, I‘ve had lots of opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t lived in Warrane.”

 

“You make some really good friends – lifelong friends. You get to do a lot of different activities... After you’ve been here for a while, it does really start to feel like home. I think the ladies who look after us; they really do supplement having mum at home... It sounds sort of silly sometimes, but that really does have a big impact on your life.”

Liam continued: “You get a really good work/life/study balance really early on... they really foster that. There’s a good emphasis on being active in sport, community service, socialising; but also doing well at uni and getting your career in line, and networking and all that sort of stuff. It’s been all really useful and has made it quite an enjoyable experience.”

Another enjoyable part of Liam’s life for the past seven years has been his weekly Thursday visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home in Randwick. Whether it’s helping out with whatever needs doing, or just chatting to the residents, he cites it as the most rewarding thing he’s experienced.

 “It’s really, really nice – it definitely brings you back down to ground a bit,” said Liam. “It makes you realise, I guess, how lucky you are: with the family you do have around you, and the opportunities you’ve got. For some of the residents, for the whole week you are their only external stimulation... it’s something special and different for them.”

“I mean you’re not necessarily saving lives, but you’re making a difference in someone’s life who sits around all day because they can’t walk or whatever.”

What about the most challenging part of Liam’s life so far? He said it was making the decision to be baptised as a Catholic, which took place at Warrane in 2013, by Cardinal Pell.

“Given that most of my family and friends outside of college are atheist or agnostic, it was a pretty tough decision,” said Liam. “When I came here I didn’t know much about the faith... In the first couple of years here, some of the older guys (those who are Catholic or who’d been here a while), they’d explain things to me. I made good friends with some of those guys and I guess I just got a bit more aware of the faith, what it entailed, how I could be a part of that.”

He continued, “It all just accumulated and by the time I finished my third year of uni, I was starting to think in a more mature sense about not only where I wanted my uni and career to go, but what direction I wanted to take my life; and the things I sort of felt I was lacking and needed to improve. For me the faith was a good way to use as a focus, or a pathway to do that.”

Liam will spend the next two years in Gosford as a young doctor, and after that hopes to specialise in something physician-based: endocrinology, psychiatry or maybe general practice. We wish him well!

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