5 May 2022
Midwifery graduate Kristy Benson says the odds were against her even starting a university degree. But the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Chancellor’s Medallist has proven she likes to defy expectations, even her own.
As it turned out, all of the things that appeared to be barriers – being a single mum, living in a regional town, dropping out of high school – in fact helped push me even harder to succeed,” said Kristy, who was presented with the Chancellor’s Medal, awarded to an outstanding graduating student from across USC’s five campuses, at a Fraser Coast ceremony yesterday.
And after leaving school in Year 10 believing she wasn’t ‘academic’, the former hospitality manager from Hervey Bay also received USC’s highest academic award – a University Medal – for a perfect grade point average of 7 during her Bachelor of Midwifery studies.
“The first step is always the hardest. You need to make the decision to feel the fear and do it anyway."
"If you are passionate about something, you owe it to yourself to give it a go,” said Kristy, who gave the address of behalf of more than 50 graduates at the Brolga Theatre in Maryborough.
“I now know that I have the skills and the resilience to achieve anything that I set my mind to. I am leaving my degree with the career of my dreams as a midwife, a passion for lifelong learning and some amazing friendships,” she said.
“I thought that I wasn't smart enough to go to university, but I've since learnt that there is no such thing. No one wakes up smart, smart is something you work hard for.”
That hard work involved juggling part-time work with full-time study across Sunshine Coast and Fraser Coast campuses, and 4am starts to travel three hours to Sippy Downs for a day of lectures and tutorials before returning to Hervey Bay in time to put her children, now aged five and eight, to bed.
She also found time to devote herself to representative groups, social clubs and volunteer organisations at USC and the wider community.
Her roles included President of the Midwifery Society of USC, founding co-chair of the Fraser Coast Student Liaison Group, President of Active Minds Fraser Coast, member of the Student Senate, and Midwifery student representative on the Learning and Teaching Committee.
She facilitated a local mothers’ group, co-facilitated the Positive Birth Movement Fraser Coast, volunteered with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and advocated for women and families with their mental health through her involvement with Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia.
USC Chancellor Sir Angus Houston said Kristy’s outstanding achievements and distinguished contributions led to her being chosen to receive the Chancellor’s Medal, along with University Medal, and a Leadership Award.
“Kristy has made a huge impact on her peers and established herself as an outstanding professional within the women's health community,” he said as he presented the medal.
Kristy says her journey from ‘high school dropout’ to gaining a coveted graduate position with Queensland Health’s Midwife Group Practice in Rockhampton shows the power of self-belief and the many ways that education can transform lives.
A traumatic birth experience with her first baby, and an empowering experience with her second, motivated Kristy to take a leap of faith and enrol in Nursing Science at USC Fraser Coast in 2018 as a pathway to becoming a midwife.
“That first semester I absolutely immersed myself in learning, and my dedication only increased as I started to study what I was so passionate about,” she said.
She gained straight high distinctions, allowing her to transfer in second semester to the highly competitive Midwifery degree, offered through the University’s Sunshine Coast campus.
“Until enrolling at USC, I had just not had an opportunity, a burning passion, and a supportive university in which I could bloom,” she said.
“I am also forever grateful for the skills and knowledge that I've learnt through my degree – not only academically and related to my work, but also in relation to personal growth and learning who I am.
“It is still surreal to have completed my degree and be able to call myself a registered midwife. It's a dream come true.”
Her graduate role involves caseload midwifery – caring for the same women and families from their first antenatal appointment all the way through until their baby is six weeks old.
“Being able to support women through the rite of passage of pregnancy, birth and the postpartum is a giant privilege and honour,” Kristy said.
“I'm really enjoying being able to combine the knowledge with my experience from practicals at university, and to be able to practice in a way that is congruent with my own midwifery philosophy.”