Life after Leos

As a year year 12 student, Townsville’s Hannah Bellwood took off the 2007-08 Leo of the Year title. Thirteen years later Hannah MD, now Brisbane-based, married and soon to become a fully fledged anaesthetist, recalls her win and recounts how it helped change her life.

It was life-changing in a way I can’t even describe. Even just being involved in Leos was life-changing. What I really learnt and loved was the capacity to communicate with people from all walks of life, meeting people and learning what their common goals are. Helping people basically underpins Lions.

What do recall of your 2007-2008 win?

I’m one of those people with quite a good memory for these things. My topic was Opportunity Knocks and it was about seizing opportunities, and there were so many of those that came in my time with Leos and Lions. In Leos, I had so many opportunities to do cool and exciting things, contribute to people. It was at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. I can’t remember how many hundred people I spoke in front of but I was in grade 12 at the time and it was a really big deal, presenting to so many distinguished people. Lions come from all different walks of life so it was an overwhelming feeling. And I was lucky to win. I was nervous but I had been doing a lot of speech and drama in my schooling up until that point, and there was also that little bit of excitement. I do like being on the stage and putting on a bit of a performance in some ways, but regardless of the outcome I was just so excited to be in Sydney. I was in high school at the time so the idea of going on a trip by myself with my friends … it was going to be great regardless.

Did your win change your life in any way?

It was life-changing in a way I can’t even describe. Even just being involved in Leos was life-changing. What I really learnt and loved was the capacity to communicate with people from all walks of life, meeting people and learning what their common goals are. Helping people basically underpins Lions. And I then went on to a career in medicine, so the things I learnt through Leos and Lions basically have extrapolated to my career.

So did medicine run in your family?

There were no doctors in my family. It was a combination of things like Leos and Lions and my schooling, and I quite enjoyed science. Leos and Lions made me realise I wanted a career that involved helping people and learning what people experience in their lives. You can’t underestimate what difference you make through altruism, doing something for your fellow man. My way of combining that and science was to do something in healthcare. I decided to aim high with medicine. It all just worked out and I loved it and I got the marks and I managed to get through.

You have gained many honours, from graduating from medicine/surgery with an Academic Medal and as Class Valedictorian to being named the Australian Medical Association Queensland’s junior medical officer and medical student of the year. What do you consider your greatest achievement over those 13 years?

 It’s going to sound very cheesy but I think my greatest achievement if anything is marrying my husband, who used to be a Leo as well. All the career stuff aside, unless you’re got someone to share your life with, where it’s all fun, none of that other stuff matters much. There’s a lot of study in medicine and lots of exams. I just finished my final exam last year, and it’s a bit of an existential moment. After 13 years on the hamster wheel of specialty training you realise you never have to do another exam if you don’t have to. So that was pretty special.

What made you turn to anaesthetics?

I enjoyed it as a medical student and my part-time job through medical school was working in a pharmacy. Again, I liked being around people and I quite enjoyed pharmacology and medications … and also stickers – yes, I’m one of those Office Works sort of people. Anaesthetics is kind of an unknown specialty to a lot of the general public. (As anaesthetists) we really have finessed procedural skills, we’re experts in resuscitation.  We’re very much in control of everyone’s physiology when they’re asleep and we have to keep them very safe. It’s a vulnerable time for patients and I really like being put in a position of trust and compassion, that you are there to take care of their life right there in that moment. People forget that the surgery couldn’t happen without us.

What will you do when you’re fully qualified?

That’s a good question. Once I’ve finished my training it’s just about finding, not my forever job, but just a fulltime specialist appointment. My intention is to stay in Brisbane because Peter (Hodgson), my husband, has become a partner of his company down here. He’s a partner of a financial and accounting firm and is a financial planner himself.

I know you were both members of Twin Cities Leo Club in Townsville, but had you and Peter known one another for long before marrying?

Yeah, we met in 2010, the year he joined Leos. Everyone just thought he joined the club because he liked me but he ended up doing our most successful club project ever. And then we got married in 2016, six years later. And that was four years ago.

Was that project Sail4Palsy?

Yeah. At that time our club had about 20 members and Peter’s sister has got cerebral palsy, so it was a project close to his heart. It was just phenomenal that such a group of young people could manage to rally all Townsville’s community to make exceptional donations, put together this project. Peter sailed his little catamaran, which is only about 14-foot long, from Townsville to Cairns in peak summer cyclone season. It managed to raise $15,000, quite a lot for a bunch of uni students. To this day we very much put that achievement up on the shelf. Like we can’t believe we did that. We’ll never top it.

What do you think about young people becoming involved in quests like Leo of the Year? Good for them?

Absolutely, and without a doubt I’d highly recommend joining Leos. It changed my life in that it’s one of those unique opportunities you get to actually do some sort of community service. It’s not just the fundraising. It puts young people in a position of meeting others they wouldn’t usually, and learning how to communicate and work in teams. I had some amazing opportunities to travel as a result of it. Like public speaking, learning your own skills and having the opportunity to build on those sort of things. I hope Leos continues its success for years to come.

Older Lions often say ‘we’re not attracting enough young people. We don’t know how to attract them, they’re not interested’. Any suggestions from your experience? Things that could be done better?

It’s a busy, busy world and I think in some ways people put off joining Lions and Leos because they don’t have the time for them. Any strategies that make things as time-efficient as possible, or that allow people to contribute in any other ways they can, will make it easier. One of the silver linings to come out of Covid is the increased use of technology. If Lions meetings have the capacity to be run with technologies like Zoom, that will probably allow more people, especially those with work and family commitments, to be involved.

At the same time, whilst it’s hard to always attract younger members, the success of Lions has been built a lot on people at a certain time in their lives and their careers. Don’t stress. I think young people will get to that point in their lives too, where Lions is going to offer them what they want. It’s something that applies to me. I feel I have come full circle and Lions is something that I will come back to, definitely.

Story originally by Tony Fawcett.