Healthy outlook ... Masa Lasica, who fled civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is now a medical registrar at Canberra Hospital studying for her final exam. Photo: Rohan Thomson
When Masa Lasica arrived in Australia 13 years ago, her English was so poor she could not understand the simplest conversation.
Now the 30-year-old junior doctor is working at the Canberra Hospital and gearing up take her final physician exam before choosing a specialty.
Dr Lasica's parents fled under-siege Sarajevo and arrived in Melbourne in 1999. It's a painful memory that still brings the medical registrar to tears.
''It was civil war, neighbours all of a sudden that were from different parties were enemies … my parents got messages from friends saying you have to get your kids out, the civil war has started,'' Dr Lasica said.
''Men couldn't leave so my mum, my brothers and I caught the last bus out of the area … it was packed, there was no way of even getting a straw into that bus once the door closed. I remember my dad standing outside and I thought at the time it was probably the last time I would see him.''
The family was later reunited, but Dr Lasica said the ''stop the boats'' rhetoric and refugee bashing by certain sections of the Australian community was something she could not understand.
''Knowing what it feels like to be from a civil war country, it certainly gives you a different perspective on the circumstances these people are actually coming from.''
But the proud Australian citizen said she had never experienced discrimination because of her former refugee status.
''Through the whole time we've been here I've never ever experienced discrimination, it's been the most pleasant experience. This country really prides itself on being a mixture of different cultures … I think it's one of the most beautiful things about this place. But the way the current boats issue is handled probably dosen't quite fit with that.''
Speaking with only a trace of an accent, the medical resident at Canberra Hospital catalogues the virtues of living and training in the nation's capital, her home of eight years.
''The program here and the way we are supported through this training itself is really good. It's a hospital that's large enough to have sub-specialties and very acute medicine, but at the same time you know most people that work here … the consultants [are] open for having a chat and they do a lot of bedside teaching.''
Dr Lasica said without the hours of study she puts in, her work and life balance would be ''pretty good''.
''This hospital compared to other hospitals has a good after-hours workload. The training itself is not a walk in the park … it really tests a lot of your personal strength as well as your personal relationships,'' she said.
But the division of medicine's executive director Rosemary O'Donnell said the hardship in Dr Lasica's young life had made the determined young woman a better doctor.
''She's certainly committed and her determination to overcome challenges in the beginning and learn English and get into the program will stand her in good stead,'' Ms O'Donnell said.