Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
6 Jun 2013

John Farey is the winner of the Australian Medical Journal's Dr Eric Dark Award for Creative Writing
Second year student at the University of Notre Dame's Sydney School of Medicine, John Farey has won a hotly-contested national award for a short story he wrote after spending two weeks as a volunteer at a displaced people's camp in Kenya.
Announced this week as the winner the Medical Journal of Australia's 2013 Dr Eric Dark Creative Writing Prize, John's story "Esther" brings the people in the camp vividly to life and finds amongst the poverty, malnutrition and hardship, wonderful moments of joy.
His short story is a celebration of community, solidarity and affirmation of the strength of the human spirit. It is also the story of a little girl called Esther, rescued from a rubbish dump at Nakaru, a city north of Nairobi, who cannot walk without help. The five year old orphan has rickets, an entirely preventable nutritional disease triggered by a lack of Vitamin D and calcium. But despite her difficulty moving and her tiny size, the child in her oversized donated school uniform, blushes shyly at the doctors and the young Australian volunteers, then gives them her widest smile.
"Basically the reason I wrote the story was because I needed an avenue to get my thoughts clear on how I felt about Africa and the time I had spent there. Being at the camp was such a confronting, formative and life-changing experience that I needed a way to crystallise my thoughts on complex issues like poverty, the role of public health and how to help the millions who are starving in Africa or suffering from preventable diseases."

Despite hardship and poverty Kenya's Abecare Ranges Primary School children find joy in laughter and smiles
In one of the most powerful images in his award-winning short story, John writes of the rubbish dump near the displaced people's camp where he volunteered and where he saw "children and pigs fighting over spoilt food on a continent with more starving mouths than there are people in Europe."
 With a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communications from the University of Sydney, John has a journalist's eye for detail matched with a distinctive literary "voice," and with his literary award looks like following in the footsteps along line of well-known writers who trained and practiced as medical doctors. The late best-selling author Michael Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School. Short story great W. Somerset Maugham was another with a degree in medicine. Thriller writer, Tess Geritsen is another as is A.J. Cronin, the British creator of Dr Finlay and author of the classic, Keys of the Kingdom, who managed to combine his work as a doctor with a successful literary career.
John loves writing and would one day love to spend a weekend or longer at Varuna, the writers' retreat in Katoomba and former home of Dr Eric Dark, a GP and public health activist and his wife, the acclaimed Australian writer Eleanor Dark. 
But John is quick to insist that although he loves to write, his passion is medicine.

Kenya's Nakuru Displaced Person's Camp is home to 6000 men, women and children
The realisation medicine was the career he wished to pursue came during a stint as a part time clerk at Royal North Shore Hospital. He had taken the job to help defray expenses during his media and communications studies at Sydney Uni.
"I loved the patient interaction and the amazing transformation between the person who would be wheeled in and the one who walked out a few days or weeks later. That's when I first started thinking that this could be a pretty good way to make a living," he says.
So after completing his degree at Sydney Uni, he enrolled as a first year medical student at Notre Dame and began his studies two months later in February, 2012.
"When I first decided to study medicine I thought my lack of a scientific background might be a disadvantage. Instead I've discovered that studying Media and Communications has given me an added skill set to draw on," he says and adds that doctors who are good communicators are in increasingly high demand.
"Being able to communicate well with patients as well as colleagues is important," he says and points out one of the main criticisms patients and their families often have is that their doctor either hasn't explained a procedure clearly or has confused them with medical terminology rather than putting things in lay language in a way they can understand.

Kenya's Abecare Ranges Primary School where Esther is a pupil
When John enrolled at the University of Notre Dame Sydney although he was aware of the Medical School's high reputation, he admits it was not until he began his studies that he realised in addition to compulsory core studies of ethics and philosophy, students across all disciplines were also required to undertake at least one social justice project each year.
"'Which is how I ended up in Kenya," he says, explaining that as part of UNDA's Schools of Education and Medicine's Outreach program last summer, he travelled to Kenya's Displaced People's Camp at Nakuru, north of Nairobi with three other med students and a group of education students.
The education students gave lessons at the Aberdare Ranges Primary School while John and his fellow med students' under the supervision of Australian medico, Dr James Robertson screened each of the 300 children at the school, some of whom lived in the camp and others at the adjacent orphanage. Each child had their pulse, heart rate and blood pressure checked, were weighed and also examined for nutritional and other diseases.
Five- year- old Esther it turned out not only had rickets but also a dodgy heart. But the little girl never lost her smile.

Medical student John Farey says his experience as a volunteer in Kenya was life changing
Despite frustration that a lack of funds and poorly equipped health centres with none of the basics of modern medicine means there is unlikely to be any long-term help for Esther, John is keen to continue volunteering for UNDA outreach programs and make whatever difference he can. When he graduates in two and a half year's time, he has two goals. One is to spend time working with a group such as Medicins Sans Frontieres. The other is to enter a short story in the medical graduate category of the annual for Dr Eric Dark Creative Writing Prize.
"The prize for whichever doctor wins that category is a weekend at Varuna, which would be pretty special," he says.
To read "Esther," John Farey's award winning short story which has won the Medical Student category in the 2013 Australian Medical Journal's Sir Eric Dark Creative Writing Prize click on: