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Meet Dr Kate Wallis, our District Medical Education Coordinator – Darling Downs & West Moreton (RACGP)

Dr Kate Wallis (featured image)

Toowoomba-based GP and medical educator, Dr Kate Wallis shares her progression towards her destiny of becoming a general practitioner in Queensland.

“Toowoomba is like a second home. My grandmother lived here,” she says. “It’s also a really easy place to live. It’s very community minded, very family friendly. And the medical fraternity is very welcoming.”

Deciding to study medicine

Sometimes there is no earth-shattering moment when a person decides to ‘follow the call’ into medicine. Rather, it’s a series of natural progressions moving you towards your destiny. Or at least, that’s how Dr Kate Wallis puts it.

“I don’t think I had that light bulb moment,” she says. “It was just one of those things where I realised I was really interested in the way the human body worked. It’s an amazing creation.”

After spending the first 29 years of her life in the one house – her family home in Brisbane – Kate made the move to Toowoomba, which had something of a family connection.

“Toowoomba is like a second home. My grandmother lived here,” she says. “It’s also a really easy place to live. It’s very community minded, very family friendly. And the medical fraternity is very welcoming.”

Dusty road to doctor

Kate completed a medical degree at The University of Queensland. Rural GP Dr Bruce Chater was one of her most influential mentors.

“In my first clinical term, I was out in Theodore with Bruce. He’s been there for years. He runs an amazing practice, where he’s a true rural generalist. It was a really nice introduction to what general practice could be.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Kate recalls one particular interaction in Theodore that escalated suddenly.

“I had a husband and wife come in, and the wife mentioned she was having chest pains. We checked her out and made sure she was fine. Her husband was just in for a repeat script, but I checked his BP and heart sounds and he was fine too.”

“Well, the next day he turned around and had a heart attack. Bruce called us medical students in to help stabilise him before he was transported out. I just thought, wow, anything can change in an instant. The day before we weren’t even really worried about him, we were focused on his wife, and the next he’s being transported out. But I’m pleased to say he made a full recovery.”

Dealing with uncertainty

As a medical educator with GPTQ, Kate has been able to take those early experiences of navigating through the complex world of patient care and guide the next generation of doctors.

“Sometimes you feel like you’ve fixed everybody, and those are the days you walk out going, ‘wow this is really satisfying’,” she says. “And some days you walk out going, ‘I don’t think I did any good at all’. And often that’s because of the uncertainties of medicine. We need a bit of time to clarify what’s going on with a patient. Other times it’s the stimulus to help you learn more.”

Being able to support junior doctors psychologically, emotionally and academically is important to Kate.

“I’m very big on teaching registrars to have that self-care, to know that not every day is going to be a fixer sort of day,” she says. “It’s also about making sure you eat, making sure you get good sleep, and making you sure you have someone to debrief with, whether that’s a supervisor or colleague or professional debriefing time.”

Learning in action

Kate describes herself as a natural teacher, but stresses that medical education is more than just walking through case studies in a textbook.

“I like showing. I like doing. I like seeing when other people get an idea and apply knowledge and go ‘I took what I learned in that book and applied it to a clinical situation’. I like to mix it up; sometimes we walk through a case study, but other times I set up a fake consult and ask them how they bill it under Medicare to ensure they understand the practice management side of things as well as the clinical.”

Kate attained her GP fellowship in 2013 and believes this recent experience is an asset to her student relationships.

“I think it helps with the registrars coming through. They go, ‘oh look at her – she hasn’t been through exams that long ago; she gets where we are’. You can still be a teacher, no matter what stage of training you’re at – whether you’ve been out for 30 years or three.”