The bond between sisters and the kindness of health professionals led Poppy Chalmers to complete an apprenticeship in allied health assistance – and she’s been named Canberra’s best.
The 18-year-old Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) student has been awarded ACT Australian School-based Apprentice of the Year at the 2023 ACT Training Awards.
While the apprenticeship took Poppy about 12 months to complete, the journey leading to her decision to study allied health assistance and her award win spanned almost two decades.
For as long as Poppy can remember, she and her mum have spent about one month every year in Sydney where her older sister Sky required regular treatment for cystic fibrosis. But despite the seriousness of the progressive genetic disease, which affects the lungs, pancreas and other organs, Poppy says the health professionals always made it a positive experience for her and her sister.
“Every time we would come in, they were so happy and cheerful, and for a young seven-year-old, it was a fun place to be because everyone was so happy,” Poppy remembers.
“I see now that that’s their job and you know they love their job when they go out of their way to make such a negative experience a positive experience for the people being impacted.”
But one particular moment holds a special place in Poppy’s memory. On one of these trips to Sydney, a nurse agreed to let her stay the night in the hospital with her sister.
“That experience for me, I will never forget. They pulled out the little lounge chair next to Sky’s bed and I slept next to her the whole night,” she remembers.
“For me, this was really cool, and not only because I got to see what it was like [in a hospital], but because I got to be there with my sister.
“Those moments I’ll hold on to forever, just sitting next to her while she was in a hospital bedroom.”
From a very young age, Poppy says she knew she wanted to help make people in difficult times feel more comfortable, as the nurses had done for her and Sky.
“They loved me and they loved the idea that I wanted to be just like them,” she says.
“They always said, ‘Poppy, come over here. Look at what we’re doing.’
“I’d just stand there and watch them and ask so many questions. I was in my element. That’s where I wanted to be and I enjoyed being there so much.”
She is now working as an allied health assistant and is on the track towards fulfilling her dream, thanks to Indigenous Allied Health Australia and her host employer, Canberra Health Services.
“None of this would have happened without them,” she says. “They have given me so much direction and opportunity and have done everything they can to support me.”
Poppy plans to study social work at university next and aspires to one day work in either child protection or as a hospital support person for children like her younger self.