“I’m on my way to achieving my dream.” Chao’s story.

While most people his age might be looking to retire, Chao* has graduated from medical school and is training as a specialist doctor of Oncology.

Growing up in communist China, Chao didn’t have access to books, music, movies or culture. “I was a curious child but all I could get were government approved textbooks,” Chao said. When the Chinese government allowed access to translated Western books, Chao would visit his local library and borrow thirty at a time. “I came across the Bible and read it twice. I wanted to be useful and realised doctors can help people, treat people. It became my dream.”

Forced to follow a path

Chao focused on studying medicine. “People were selected based on their loyalty to the government – usually from families of farmers, factory workers or soldiers,” Chao said. When an application process was introduced ten years later, Chao passed the university enrolment exam but was directed by the government to study engineering. He began his engineering career but continued to apply to study medicine. “My application was refused every time, even after I completed my Masters in Beijing.” In 1989, after students protesting peacefully at Tiananmen Square for democracy were met with brutal military force, Chao left China.

Stranger in a foreign land

Chao arrived in Canberra in December 1989 with limited English skills. “On my first day, I walked out of the hotel to understand the city, and a couple stopped to say, ‘Good morning, how are you?’ I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t respond promptly. No-one spoke English in China, and while I could read English due to the foreign publications in my engineering work, my writing and conversational English were not good. I started English lessons soon after.”

Chao and his wife settled in Australia, raising their three children while Chao continued to work as an engineer. “It was challenging because I wanted to provide for my family, but also follow my passion.” Chao commenced his medical university studies alongside his son, and in 2018 graduated with a Degree in Medicine as the oldest student in his class.

Unable to pass the English Language Proficiency Test required to practice as a doctor and concerned about jeopardising the care of his patients, Chao took a year off to improve his written and conversational skills. Despite meeting with a tutor daily, Chao knew it wasn’t enough.

Tailored support

MatchWorks Job Coach, Aliki Tziavrangos met with Chao when he transferred from Austudy to Newstart. “Chao and I spoke about the direction he wanted to take and how we could support him,” Aliki said.

Aliki supported Chao to improve his English by:

  • Referring him to the SEE Program.
  • Connecting him with a conversational English group at the State Library of South Australia.
  • Practicing English during their appointments.
  • Encouraging him to use a website of people reading, where he could follow along and check his pronunciation.

“Aliki was very encouraging, she helped me in ways that suited me, and she understood the challenges of those of us who don’t have English as a first language,” Chao said. “We would chat openly, and she always understood what I was trying to achieve and how to help me. She would tailor her support and the resources she found to me.”

MatchWorks Job Coach, Aliki Tziavrangos supported Chao to improve his English language skills so he could effectively communicate with patients.

A new career

In July 2019, Chao passed the English Proficiency Test. After completing his three-year Basic Physician Training in South Australia, away from his family, Chao and his wife have settled in Victoria, close to the hospital where he is completing his three-year Advanced Physician Training.

“I appreciate that my wife had a lot of pressure on her while I was away, as she was managing the household and looking after our family on her own, and we couldn’t travel to see each other because of lockdown restrictions. Now we’re in Victoria together, living walking distance to the hospital I work at which is much better for me and my family.”

“I am proud that my children are following their passions, and I’m looking forward to continuing to follow my dream for medicine.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

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