The Hamilton-born medical student has spent his first clinical year in Bendigo gaining experience in the Bendigo hospital. In his spare time, he’s also been tutoring Bendigo secondary students as part of The Smith Family’s senior secondary tutoring program. Along with a core group of four other medical students, once a week he’s been helping Year 11 and 12 students who receive Smith Family scholarships with their homework.
The public school disadvantage
From his own experience, he knows that students in public schools often lack access to specific exam strategies. “In my high school, we didn’t have those teachers who knew exactly what to teach for the exam because they had never marked them. The teachers were great, but if you don’t have that extra bit of knowledge, you don’t have it.”
He remembers asking a chemistry teacher from Melbourne, who was in Hamilton for revision lectures and who had written and marked VCE exams, to look at a practice exam that Zak had attempted and marked himself based on published marking criteria. The results were quite different. That was when he realised that other – unwritten – criteria were at play. “I thought: well I’d better try and work out all these things. I worked out some of them, and I figured I’ll teach the [Smith Family] students that sort of thing to try and close the gap.”
“I know that students everywhere get lower marks than students at private schools. They might be smarter, they might work harder, but they just don’t have that education environment or that teacher that marks exams. I’ve got the knowledge, I guess I can impart it to them. It’s just a little thing that I figure kind of reduces that inequality.”
Secondary students gain confidence
The secondary students did gain confidence over the course of the year. At the start of the year, Zak recalled that two girls he’s tutored in biology wouldn’t know how to approach a question about a topic they weren’t sure of, or they’d simply give up. “Now it’s nice when they do practice exams, they don’t just switch off when they see something they don’t know. They actually have a crack at it. And they think about things differently. I think that because of that, they’ll do better than they may have otherwise.”
Zak said he loves teaching and even considered it as a career. His favourite day in Year 11 was when his maths methods teacher was absent. “I loved maths and I was pretty good at it because I loved it and worked hard.” His fellow students asked him to take the class and reported that they’d learned more in his session than the rest of the year. “I know – it sounds like I’m pumping up my own ego,” he said chuckling.
Love of numbers leads to a research year
His love of numbers has led him to take a year off from his medicine studies to undertake an honours research year in 2018. He’s investigating a question of his own interest using the code blue database to look at the long-term outcomes of patients who have suffered a cardiac arrest in hospital. It’s already known that only one in six patients who experience a cardiac arrest will leave hospital. “But the data once you leave hospital is a bit patchy. No one cares about leaving hospital; they care about what their life will be like when they leave. And that’s what matters.”
After three years of study, he’s looking forward to the change. “I get to do placements in the ED and ICU, which is where I hope to work in the future, so it’s something I’m very excited about. I kind of got sick of just learning and doing exams. It’s nice to actually create something.”