Incredibly, Dr Bronwyn Kjestrup moved smoothly between the wards of Dunedin Hospital, and the basketball courts of south Auckland over the last three weeks. And she tells Ashley Stanley, she’s not yet ready to choose one role over the other. 

The obstacles some female athletes endure to play their sport is both admirable and gob-smacking.

For Bronwyn Kjestrup, it involves requesting another roster change from her bosses. And working consecutive night shifts as a junior doctor at Dunedin Hospital – only to finish her shift at 8am to hop on a flight to Auckland and then play an important game of basketball. 

Then flying back to Dunedin to slip on her white coat before the next games. Only to be repeated five times this season. 

All of this effort and co-operation has been necessary to ensure Kjestrup ran out as captain of the Otago Rush basketball side in this year’s NBL 18IN18 competition – six teams playing over 18 straight days, all at the Pulman Arena in Papakura.

Juggling sport and medical career is nothing new for the 1.8m forward, who’s respected as a strong all-rounder and a leader on court. But this season has been a little more intense due to Covid-19 and her first year working on the hospital wards. 

But Kjestrup, who’s back working on the psychiatric ward today, admits she makes it work because the desire to play the sport she took up as a young girl is still there.

“Because I’ve always played basketball, everyone is really understanding,” says Kjestrup, who finished up her six-year medical degree last year. “I played a lot of sports in high school and played basketball at university so I haven’t really known too much different.

“Coaches and teammates are really understanding if I have to miss [basketball training] for an evening shift. And my work colleagues are great; they’re always open to switching the roster with me so that I can get away when I need to.” 

She returned to her normal routine earlier than she’d hoped, after the Otago Rush were beaten in the semi-final by the Waikato Wizards on the weekend – the team they beat in the final in 2018. (The Wizards lost last night’s final to the North Harbour Breeze, 70-59.)

But in a year where the possibility of having any competition was not looking promising, Kjestrup is grateful to have taken the court at all. 

“It’s a really exciting competition,” she says over the phone before their semi. “I mean, for so long this year, we didn’t really know if there was going to be anything to play in, so we’re really stoked to have something that kind of makes all our training worthwhile. 

“For all of us it’s been a really long time since we’ve played competitively, so I’m just excited to play. And being on TV is such an exciting opportunity for women’s basketball that hasn’t been there before.” 

Kjestrup experienced another ‘first’ in her basketball career this year. 

As if she didn’t have enough on her plate already, the 24-year-old coached the Otago U17 side at nationals against one of her former coaches – Justine Reed of North Harbour. 

“That was really funny,” says Kjestrup, who graduated from Westlake Girls’ High School in Auckland. “She coached me for a few years at high school. It was a pretty special experience, not playing for her anymore and coaching against her.” 

When the New Zealand age-grade representative initially got into coaching, it took her some time to adjust to the player-coach switch. 

“At the start I wanted to get on the court. I think it’s good for them [team] to have young females involved in coaching. Most of the time it’s usually a parent or there’s a lot of men coaching basketball, so it’s kind of great to have that role model type role,” says Kjestrup.

“I really enjoy being able to give back to the girls and to kind of encourage them to keep playing basketball. I’ve had so many great coaches that are all so different so I definitely take a bit from everyone.”

The additional credentials feel like Kjestrup has already come full circle in her basketball career. But she knows it’s only the beginning. 

She got into basketball around the age of five because her older brother, Daniel, used to play. 

“I suppose I just followed his footsteps. And I really enjoyed it so I never really stopped,” she says. Her brother is now a mechanical engineer. 

As for medicine, it wasn’t always top of mind for Kjestrup. She just wanted a career with variation and meaning. 

“I never set out to be a doctor or anything,” she says. “I only knew I wanted to do something that changed everyday and that had a purpose. I thought medicine would be interesting so I came down here [to Dunedin] and really enjoyed it.” 

The first year as a doctor can be difficult, but Kjestrup says it can also be really rewarding. Whether or not she chooses to go further and specialise in a certain medical field is still up in the air.

“I’m not really sure what kind of speciality I want to do in medicine. We rotate every three months for the first couple of years to get a bit of a challenge,” Kjestrup says.

“I quite like surgery, maybe orthopaedics and general surgery. And I’m also enjoying psychiatry so they’re quite different. Orthopaedics is hands-on and a lot of young sportspeople are coming in, which is quite cool.” 

Her goals in basketball nowadays are more around playing for enjoyment and the competitiveness edge outside of work. 

“I just kept playing at university when I came down to Dunedin because of the friendships I’ve made within the team,” she says. “I never thought I’d keep playing at university because I was focusing on medicine, but I enjoyed it so much. 

“I’m naturally a competitive person so I don’t just do social games, I think that would drive me crazy. They also have such a great culture and I’ve made some lifelong friendships.”

To maintain her work-life balance, Kjestrup keeps it simple away from the mayhem of the hospital and basketball court. 

“With the little amount of spare time, I enjoy travelling around the South Island, hanging out with friends and walking my favourite dog at the beach.” 

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