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NEWS > Alumnae News > Words of wisdom from Dr Katrina Damian ('89) to the Class of 2021

Words of wisdom from Dr Katrina Damian ('89) to the Class of 2021

Dr Katrina Damian ('89) addressed our school and the Class of 2021 with these powerful words about the impact of her Loreto education throughout her life and career.
24 Feb 2022
Alumnae News
Dr Katrina Damian with Erin Longney, dux of Class of 2021
Dr Katrina Damian with Erin Longney, dux of Class of 2021

We were delighted to welcome back Dr Katrina Damian ('89) to our HSC Assembly celebrating the achievements of the Class of 2021. Katrina addressed our school assembly about the lessons to be learned in both the ups and downs of life, and about her chosen path. We're pleased to share her words with you here. 

I am a former Loreto Normanhurst girl – graduating in the class of 1989. My two younger sisters also attended Loreto Normanhurst and my four daughters are all Loreto Kirribilli girls. It is fair to say that Loreto has been and remains very close to my heart!

I am a doctor, working as a GP on the lower North Shore mainly in the areas of women’s and children’s health including mental health. But I haven’t always been a doctor. I was a lawyer for many years working at a large law firm in the city and I had a very indirect route to medicine, which I only started when I was 31 and had a newborn baby. Almost 20 years and three more children later, I can honestly say that in large part it is my Loreto background that helped me navigate my unusual but rewarding journey.

And what I still treasure today is the gift that my Loreto education gave me. This is a gift I have come to value more and more as the years go by. It is the reason I knew, even before I had daughters, that I would send them to Loreto. That is the gift of the belief that I, as a Loreto girl, with all my strengths but also all my imperfections, have something important to give back to the world and that with determination, perseverance and some hard work thrown in, I can achieve my dreams. I am hoping by sharing a little of my journey and some reflections so that you too can reflect on how you will use the gift of Loreto in the years ahead.

Given that we are really here to celebrate the success of the Class of 2021 after such a difficult year, what I am about to say may seem a little strange. Because what I am about to say relates to failure. I’d like to share with you four words relating to failure that have become somewhat of a mantra in my life. These four words are so important to me that they are enlarged and stuck on my fridge door at home so that I see them every day. It might surprise you when you hear them. The four words are:  “Failure is the greatest”.

I can sense the raising of eyebrows, but let me explain. And to do that, let me tell you a little more about my journey since leaving Loreto.

I was the typical Science/Maths type of student when I was here – I really enjoyed those subjects in Years 11 and 12. But I also enjoyed all the fabulous extra-curricular activities that Loreto offered us and for me really made my school years so special. I played Tildesley Tennis, did Mock Trial, played netball and participated in debating and Speech and Drama. I found doing those things really helped make sure Years 11 and 12 did not become too stressful with study. But given my leaning towards science subjects, it seemed natural that as I travelled through the HSC I became more and more committed to studying medicine. I was attracted to the idea of helping others but also doing something science-related.

When Year 12 finished I remember waiting for my results in the mail. As it turns out, I had missed out by one mark out of 500 on getting into medicine. As that realisation hit, I felt my dreams slipping away from me and felt like a failure as I had let people know that I really wanted to try and get into medicine. Over the next few days the disappointment really stung – we all know failure hurts. I shed many tears. But then I needed think about what I was going to do – and I realised I had loved Mock Trial when I was at school so I thought law could be a good choice. I researched options and I realised I could do a Science/Law degree so my decision was made!

I loved the world of uni and I loved doing law. I graduated, worked for a Supreme Court judge for a year, then worked for eight years in one of the large law firms in the city. I travelled overseas for work and for holidays, met my husband and met many other fabulous people, friends and mentors. I learnt then that what I had seen as my “failure” had actually been a necessary step to opening my mind to other possibilities and other people, not least of whom was my husband of 25 years who I would never had met had I gone straight into medicine.

Fast forward a few years – I was a 31 year-old corporate lawyer, married and pregnant with my first child. I had worked hard over the years to climb the work ladder and enjoyed my job. Then suddenly I developed a condition known as pre-eclampsia – which can be dangerous to mother and baby if not managed properly. It requires you to go on bed rest for some weeks whilst you are monitored in hospital. So that meant not only did I have some thinking time, but also had some smart, caring doctors who were looking after me. They inspired me. Not only with their care and compassion, but they would explain to me why they needed to do what they were doing and I found it so interesting. So, lying in bed with my huge pregnant belly, an idea was born – I wanted to be a doctor like them. To care for others as they had cared for me. I didn’t dare tell anyone at first – after all, who makes that sort of career change after working hard to get up the ladder at a law firm? And it would mean starting at the bottom again – and that was even if I could get in!

My last chance at sitting thr GAMSAT exam would be about four months after my baby was due to be born. It was going to be tough as I was going to have to study consistently for the first few months of my baby’s life. To their credit, my husband and parents told me to have a go.

And as it turned out to my great surprise, I passed the exam, had an interview and then received an offer at Sydney Uni Medical School. But even then, I had another hard decision to make – whether to accept the offer! It would have been the safe decision to politely decline the offer and return to my law job. But I had that inner voice telling me that I had to take the risk, that whilst failure was very possible, I did not want to regret not having taken this opportunity. I am so glad I listened to that inner voice as I now have a career that I love. A career where I have the privilege of helping people in their greatest, but also their saddest, darkest times.

I hope I am by now shedding some light on why I live by those four words relating to failure. But I think living by those words has done more than simply make me more resilient and have better self-belief. In addition, it has been so powerful because it has made me acknowledge my own vulnerability. Vulnerability to disappointment, criticism and not getting it right. While that sounds quite confronting, I think that in turn has made me a more compassionate person – both to myself and others.

But also key to my journey, which I think you will find will also be a big part of your journey from here, are my Loreto friends. These friends remain some of my closest friends even 33 years after finishing school. These are women I admire, I turn to in time of need and who have been some of my biggest supporters outside my family. They have achieved success in a myriad of areas. Our children are now great friends and may of them are Loreto girls themselves. We all left here with the gift of believing that we could achieve what we put our hearts and minds too- that we could, as Mary Ward had taught us “do much”.

Girls, once you have been here, if you can continue to dream big, put yourself forward for things even if it seems scary, look possible failure in the eye and stare it down, and remember to be compassionate to yourself and others, then I am sure you can indeed go anywhere you dream.

Dr Katrina Damian ('89)

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