(07) 3552 8100

Meet GPTQ Medical Educator, Dr Katrina McLean

Dr John Buckley (featured image)

When it comes to a breadth of medical education experience, Dr Katrina McLean has it in spades, with dual fellowships under her belt, along with many years of teaching medical students and Registrars.

“Being a GP gives you so many options. You’re not just limited to urban general practice – there is a huge variety out there. Every experience you have builds your skills, and it’s all applicable.”

Crossing the Tasman

Dr Katrina McLean grew up in the tiny remote town of Macraes Flat in New Zealand. She made the trip across the Tasman some 10 years ago with her husband and three young children, landing on the Gold Coast.

“I have a brother, sister-in-law and family in Brisbane, so it’s not too far away for us to visit them.  While I would have loved to live rurally, it would have been quite challenging for my husband to find work. So we ended up settling in the Gold Coast hinterland, which isn’t a bad place to be,” she smiles.

“Living in the hinterland is a fantastic compromise. I still feel a little bit rural as I look out on paddocks filled with horses and chickens. It’s only an half an hour drive to the Gold Coast where I practise and teach, looking over the beach and a bustling tourist area.”

A convoluted path to GP

After finishing high school in New Zealand, medicine wasn’t quite on Katrina’s radar.

“It really wasn’t something I’d planned on doing. While I naturally did well in science and maths in high school, I wasn’t passionate about it. Initially, I was interested in creative areas like art and design,” she says.

This led her to enrol in a combined Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degree at Otago University. But her experiences there helped her realise a strong interest in health-related sciences, including psychology. She then chose to transfer to a Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science.

“Once I’d finished that, I knew it was actually the time with patients that I enjoyed the most. So I was very fortunate to secure a postgraduate spot in medicine,” she explains.

But general practice was still some way off.

“I didn’t plan to be a GP from the outset. I’d thought I’d become a physician, but then I had my first child and found juggling physician training and a newborn baby to be incredibly difficult. I started looking at part-time training options and there weren’t many,” she explains.

“While working as a medical registrar, one of the psychiatrists approached me as I think she could see I was finding it hard to manage parenthood and physician training. She encouraged me to consider psychiatry and offered a part time training option. So being a sleep deprived new mother who was struggling, I said ‘Ok, I’ll give that a go!’ And I did that for three years,” she says.

During that time, Katrina found she really missed practising a broader spectrum of medicine, where she could combine her procedural skills with her mental health experience. General practice was a logical choice, and she then went on to do her GP training. After achieving fellowship, Katrina practised in New Zealand for a year before moving to Australia.

“This happened to be just after the earthquake hit. So we all decided to make a move to more solid ground,” she smiles.

“My path to becoming a GP was a bit long and convoluted, but all of those experiences have helped in my clinical and teaching work. Ultimately, I think I knew general practice was the right fit for me, and I’ve had no regrets since I started.”

A variety of practice including medical education

Katrina currently practises at a Broadbeach GP clinic, and is also the clinical lead of the Upper Coomera Respiratory Clinic. In addition, she sets aside one to two days each week for medical education, supporting Registrars in GPTQ’s Gold Coast district, as well as medical students at Bond University.

“I’ve been teaching medical students for the last five years, and teach right across the medical course, from the first year to the final year who are doing placements with me,” she says.

“I’ve always enjoyed teaching. Even before going into medicine at university, I helped tutor Maori and Pacific Island students. So it’s been a natural progression to my role with GPTQ and our Registrars. I really love the combination of teaching and clinical work, as I think they complement each other well.”

Katrina’s diverse experience in general practice comes in handy when teaching, but is also a great example for Registrars, showing the myriad ways a GP career can go.

“When I was working as a GP in New Zealand, I ended up doing a lot of women’s health. Even though I enjoyed it, I felt like I wasn’t getting enough variety, so I took a job as a medical officer at a men’s prison. That certainly gave me a balance,” she laughs.

“My mental health training was exceptionally helpful there, and even though it was challenging, I enjoyed it. That experience still helps me now when I see patients who may have recently served prison time. I’ve got a much deeper understanding of how that might have impacted their health, or the preventative care they may not have received.”

Another large part of Katrina’s career is her GP advocacy work.

“For me, general practice is more than just what happens in the consulting room. I see advocating and making a difference at a broader level for patients as much of my role as the individual consulting I do,” she says.

This has led her to undertake a variety of advocacy positions, including sitting on professional committees and speaking to the media about public health issues. She is also the current chair of General Practice Gold Coast (an independent local GP organisation), and director of the GPDU Facebook group, where she helps moderate over eight thousand Australian and New Zealand GPs.

“The advocacy work is really varied. More recently, we’ve focused on meeting with MPs to discuss our concerns about rebate reductions for ECGs, and how that’s going to impact our patients,” she explains.

“It’s really rewarding when you see the work start to translate into change. Doing these things outside of clinical consulting keeps me from burning out. It helps fill my glass back up, as opposed to depleting it.”

This is why Katrina is fully supportive of Registrars who take a circuitous path during their training time, as well as after they fellow.

She says: “You don’t have to be one-minded. Everything you do builds and adds together, so I really encourage you to try lots of different things.”