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Dr Danielle James

Meet GPTQ medical educator, Dr Danielle James

Dr Brendan Triggs (featured image)

Dr Danielle James always knew she wanted to help people, and felt drawn to teaching from a young age.

“It was probably in late high school I realised I wanted to do something in the ‘helping’ industries. I always thought I wanted to be a teacher but medicine was what I chose in the end.”

Changing lives via medicine

Leaving the idyllic surrounds of Ballina on the coast of northern NSW, Danielle headed up to Brisbane to study medicine. She then entered the hospital system, where she primarily worked as a paediatric registrar. After six years, the intense demands of hospital life began to clash with the needs of her young family.

“I realised I had to try something else,” she says. “I had two kids: Emma, who was a wonderful surprise in fourth year uni and Jake, who I had in my second year out. I’d had a bad 16 months of rotations and they were about to send me out to Mount Isa. The hospital stuff is pretty tough. There’s a big difference between working 60 hours and 38 hours. It doesn’t mean we don’t work hard in general practice, it just means it’s a bit more balanced.”

Twenty-one years later, Danielle hasn’t looked back.

Pursuing a career in general practice

“Becoming a GP was a big change for me but it was definitely the right move,” she says. “The thing I loved when I was in the hospital system was continuity of care. My favourite time was when I was doing paediatric oncology because you got to know families and you go to see kids again and again. In general practice I get to do that all the time.”

“The other thing I used to love in the hospital was spending time explaining things to patients. In general practice that’s the way I get to do things, which means I can run late and I probably see a lot more half-hour patients than average but that’s OK by me.”

Danielle also relishes the variety of general practice.

“I get to do so many things,” she says. “I still get to do a lot of paediatrics, but I also get to do a lot of women’s health and men’s health. I also like doing procedures. I believe it’s really important to stay skilled in as many areas as you can as a GP, by not referring everything off and doing as much as you can yourself.”

Meeting doctors on their life journey

Danielle’s passion for learning and desire to nurture others has seen her involved with medical education for nearly 20 years. She’s been working as a medical educator with GPTQ since 2011.

“I enjoy meeting people where they are on their journey and trying to find ways to smooth their transition to becoming a GP,” she says. “I think anyone can read from a textbook but understanding how to apply it, knowing what the nuances are, this is really valuable.”

“It’s great nurturing people and having that pastoral care element. I remember wishing someone could show me how to apply the art of medicine, as well as the science. I hope in some small way I do that.”

Danielle also enjoys helping junior doctors navigate the more ambiguous parts of medicine.

“These are intelligent people, eminently capable of finding their way through the textbooks but I’m able to help them with things like how to deal with uncertainty, how to sit with things and allow them to evolve over time and how to walk through different situations with patients.”

Going her own way

With her children now grown, Danielle has found new ways to benefit from the flexibility and diversity of the GP role.

“My kids are much older now – 28 and 24 – and that does allow me to fill up more spaces. I’m on a journey of working out how much to fill and how much to leave free. But this year I’ve been asked to do some surgical assisting. I’m also a co-initiator of a Facebook examination preparation page for registrars and one of the GPs working with the paediatric palliative care service Hummingbird House.”

Advice for aspiring doctors

Danielle’s advice to anyone starting out and considering their options is not to discount the many benefits of general practice.

“If you want to do lots of things, if you want variety and the opportunity to go in multiple directions – this is the place to be,” she says. “I have a friend who keeps telling me to come back and do psychiatry, and I just don’t think I could do the one thing all the time.”

“The other thing is you make a difference in terms of people’s everyday life. They go and see the specialist but they come back to you to interpret the letter, they come back to you to ask what the next step is. You are connected to them and know the details of their family and their home life. You have a deep understanding of your patients, and that’s so important.”