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News > Collegians > Life-saving work for 2013 Head Girl Jess Reilly

Life-saving work for 2013 Head Girl Jess Reilly

Head Girl, Jess Reilly (Harington 2011-2013) has devoted years to life-saving work and is now back in Waikato.
16 Jun 2023
Collegians
Jess (right) in Malawi
Jess (right) in Malawi

It’s been ten years since the 2013 Head Girl, Jess Reilly (Harington 2011-2013) left St Paul’s. After studying to be a doctor, including a stint in Malawi and Middlemore, she has made her way back to Waikato.

Jess’s original life-saving job was as a surf lifesaver. For ten years she scanned the beaches from Raglan to Piha searching for people who were out of their depth and in need of help. It was great training for her current job as a registrar at Waikato Hospital. She had to learn to think quickly, stay calm and manage stressful situations while helping scared people.

Jess came to St Paul’s in Year 11 with a desire to be pushed academically in preparation for medical school. And she was all in when it came to St Paul’s. She says, “While at St Paul’s I got to do what I love and be involved with as many things as I could. I played for the Girls First XI Football team, sang in the choir and joined the production.” A highlight for Jess was playing Audrey in The Little Shop of Horrors during her Year 13. “It was out of my comfort zone, but I loved it.” She also squeezed in time to join a rock band called Bermuda Square as the vocalist. The band went to Smokefree Rockquest and won the peoples’ choice award.

Jess made key connections during her three years at St Paul’s. The Head Girl in 2011, Lizzie Wilson, also studied medicine at Auckland University and was instrumental in helping Jess through the grueling first year of pre-med by giving sound advice and support. Lizzie wasn’t the only St Paul’s person to help during that tough year. “That first year was high stress,” says Jess. “I did not feel confident that I would get in to second year even though I was working so hard. Part way through the year, I went to visit Mr Lander (Headmaster 2010 – 2021) and I sat on his porch and had a ‘doom and gloom’ discussion about how tough it was and about my doubts. He was so confident for me; it was one of those turning-conversations that gave me confidence.”

Jess made it into second year medical school and then some. After three years in Auckland, she did a year in each of Hamilton, Auckland and Taranaki hospitals before going to Southern Africa to do a placement in pediatric surgery and women’s delivery at a Malawi hospital. “Malawi is an amazing county with high levels of deprivation, but people were so happy and relaxed.” Working there was a catalyst to Jess choosing to work in a high-intensity area and she began her first year out of medical school at Middlemore Hospital. 

In 2021, Jess returned to Waikato with a goal to specialise in pediatric surgery; Malawi had cemented the desire.  Jess has completed two years as a house officer and worked as a surgical registrar at Waikato. She is currently working in adult general surgery broadening her exposure as she works towards her long-term goal.

A typical day for Jess involves hitting the gym at 5:00 am, then the study books at 6:30 am before starting work at 7:30 am. Added to those long days, she works weekends and nights when required.  Her favourite part of the day is being the theatre – “definitely”. She says, “I really love surgery.  It’s methodical and yet flexible and I enjoy dealing with the anatomy. It is a really satisfying way to help people; you remove their problem and see them the next day and they are so much better.”  I also love the tactile hands-on aspect and the diversity of the job. There are rounds, consults, theatre and at times, I get to travel to smaller locations to help people in clinics.”

Jess still draws on the lessons from her surf lifesaving days. “Even a familiar case can take you by surprise and it’s good to stay calm, assess the options, back-up options and think quickly on your feet.”

She has wise words for the next generation of St Paul’s graduates. “The hard work is always worth it if you are passionate about what you are doing. Alongside this, make sure you’re maintaining a rounded lifestyle that aligns with your values. Have a goal but be prepared to morph the pathway to it as needed when life inevitably changes.”

Jess acknowledges her parents’ influence in her life. Her father, Mike Reilly was one of her biggest supporters (and coach of the Girls’ First XI Football team). Mike passed away on 29 May 2023.

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