'Lying' Sydney med student 'risked lives'

Zhi Sin Lee arrives at the Downing Centre Local Court
Zhi Sin Lee has been sentenced to a two-year intensive correction order and fined. -AAP Image

A former medical student who risked the lives of patients at a major Sydney hospital where she illegally interned while unqualified for seven months has been spared jail.

Zhi Sin Lee, 27, was sentenced to a two-year intensive correction order and fined in the Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday. 

The Zetland woman had pleaded guilty to claiming she could practise medicine despite not being a registered health practitioner after she was charged by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority. 

Magistrate Glenn Bartley said the University of NSW student lied "day after day, shift after shift," and dismissed an excuse she was "confused" when she had been offered the internship at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital.

"If she was truly confused she would have got advice," he said. 

He said she "deliberately misled the hospital," and continued to work under "repeated and calculated dishonesty" including leaving her registration number blank on multiple assessment forms.

The international student applied in June 2020 for a 2021 internship, but after failing six core disciplines in October the university said she had been discontinued from completing the medical degree, according to the facts of the case. 

But on January 18 she began interning after failing to declare she was not qualified or registered.

In February she was seen to be underperforming and put under even more supervision and guidance, and completed 126 shifts" risking lives of patients and staff," she wrote in a letter to the court. 

After she was found out on August 9 she first declared she was "waiting for documentation" from UNSW before giving up the guise.

Defence lawyer Razia Shafiq said her client's risk to others was reduced in February when her role was downgraded by the hospital after she was seen to be lagging behind the other interns. 

The extra supervision meant Lee was not directing any decisions regarding patients nor exclusively dealing with them, Ms Shafiq said, and also queried why the error was not picked up earlier by hospital staff.

But the magistrate said already stretched frontline workers did not have "Rolls-Royce resources" and had been further burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and were not to blame.  

"In a public hospital the risks aren't supervised minute-to-minute, one error could lead to the worst case of death," Mr Bartley said. 

Lee, of Malaysian and Chinese background, submitted to the court that she had been under extreme financial and social pressure from her family who had invested more than $300,000 in her medical training. 

She was deemed of good character having no criminal record since arriving in NSW in 2014. 

But the magistrate said he was not satisfied if put in a "career or financial corner" and facing strong disapproval or shame from her parents, there "won't be another round of dishonesty".

Outside court Lee said there were "a lot of factors that had led to this," and was not just because of a "simple lie".

Her solicitor Chadi Irani said his client was "very remorseful and that she had lost a lot in the process".

Would she continue to pursue a career as a doctor?

"No I don't think so," Mr Irani said. 

Lee was fined $10,000 and ordered to pay AHPRA's costs of $3400, and under the ICO will have to undergo treatment for her mental health issues among other strict conditions.