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Dr Jan Hanson

Meet GPTQ medical educator, Dr Jan Hanson

Dr Brendan Triggs (featured image)

Dr Jan Hanson, Mackay-based GP and medical educator, was hooked on medicine from the age of nine when she witnessed the first heart transplant.

“I love seeing the lights go on for registrars, and breaking things down, hoping that I can create incentives for deep learning. Being a teacher makes me a better doctor.”

An interest from childhood

“I was nine when the first heart transplant was performed by Dr Christiaan Barnard in South Africa,” says Dr Jan Hanson. “I read every word of the magazine and newspaper articles, pouring over the diagrams. I was fascinated by the anatomy and physiology and knew then I wanted to do medicine.”

Born in Texas and spending her formative years first in rural France, then in Michigan, Jan moved with her family to Australia when she was 16, finishing high school before attending medical school in Adelaide.

“I was in the fourth year of the new Flinders medical degree, where I could do bridging courses in physics and chemistry and used elective time, nearly completing a music degree concurrently,” says Jan. “I chose general practice because I wanted to have it all.”

Moving to Mackay

Jan has practiced medicine for 33 years, 21 of those in Mackay, Queensland. “My husband became an emergency physician and I still wanted the variety of rural practice,” she says. “Mackay was the smallest place we could find at the time where we could both work in our chosen specialties.”

She initially worked in a rural practice outside of Mackay, as well as undertaking procedural obstetrics at the local hospital. For the last nine years, Jan has worked at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service in Mackay, and at a private family planning and well-women’s clinic within the Base Hospital. “We are not formally part of Family Planning Queensland, though we have informal links with them and assist with their certificate training.”

“I am not entirely comfortable with fee-for-service medicine. Working in a salaried position that does not rely wholly on Medicare billings, I can provide the care that I want, without being pressured to practice high through-put medicine,” she says. Jan also spent some time working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, delivering primary care women’s health services in rural areas. But, she says, she admires the GPs dealing with the complexity of general practice every day, whether in the city or rural areas.

A women’s health focus

“I have a lot of experience in women’s health and bring particular skills to family planning,” she says. “It’s nice to have a day where there are limits. On the days I only work in women’s health, I can say ‘no’ to unrelated problems. I have expertise in a specific area, and the breadth of general practice can be very challenging at times.”

Jan says she also enjoys the complexity of Indigenous health. While many patients who visit the clinic experience personal struggles, it’s still often filled with sounds of laughter. “There are social complexities and comorbidities which make it really challenging. Ultimately, racism is behind the inequality in health between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people,” she says.

“I like to think that we can narrow the gap. It took a long time historically to develop the problems we see today. Sadly, we can’t undo the past or fix everything overnight,” she adds. “I have learned so much from working with my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues in terms of cultural understanding.”

Teaching the ‘art’ of medicine

Jan’s passion is teaching communication skills and the “art” of medicine to her registrars. “Understanding the patient’s world is important – helping them to make good choices for themselves,” she says.

“I like the idea of relationship-based care. Continuity of care is enormously valuable. If you have an ongoing relationship with your patients, you have increased rapport and trust. That is sometimes easier in rural communities, but I think you can do that in any environment. In the city or country, you can establish comprehensive, relationship-based care.”

“At uni we study all about disease, but as doctors, we don’t treat disease, we treat people. Listening, developing and expressing empathy – understanding the patient’s perspective and demonstrating that understanding – are key skills for any doctor,” says Jan.

GPs who inspire

“I am inspired by my own GP, Dr Andrea Cosgrove. She deals with the daily challenges of complexity and uncertainty with skill and has maintained her compassion even after decades in practice,” says Jan. “Dr Harry Jacobs and Dr Marg Campbell were my early supervisors in Mackay and also inspired me. Harry encouraged me to teach and demonstrated how to effectively lead small groups, while Marg mentored me when I became a medical educator.

With an interest in education, Jan considered a teaching career if not accepted into medicine, and on commencing medical education, she was hooked. “I love seeing the lights go on for registrars, and breaking things down, hoping that I can create incentives for deep learning,” she says. “I need to be a doctor to have the credibility to teach; being a teacher makes me a better doctor.”

It’s not all work

However, Jan does have interests outside of medicine, including weekly conversational French and the university film society. “We show films that are not mainstream, often foreign language films, though not exclusively,” she says. “We get the Sydney Travelling Film Festival in Mackay and I try to attend all the films. I grew up in a fundamentalist protestant culture; we weren’t allowed to go to the movies, so I am making up for that now! I always have several books on the go at one time – the humanities bring insight to medical practice.”

Jan says she also likes riding her bike, growing mangoes and going on trekking holidays. “I enjoy being outdoors and find walking meditative. It’s rejuvenating for me. And now, I have a baby granddaughter to visit in Toowoomba and take her for walks. I incorporate those family visits south with my medical educator role with GPTQ.”