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Meet our Assistant District Medical Educator, Dr Kathie James

Dr Kate Wallis (featured image)

Kathie brings over 25 years’ experience as a GP to her new role as GPTQ assistant medical educator for the Stafford North hub.

“I was impressed with the standard of registrars and their enthusiasm and hard work,” she says. “This role with GPTQ gives me the chance to see the continuity of their learning which is just wonderful.”

Early influences

Kathie grew up in Brighton, Queensland and follows in the medical footsteps of two close relatives.

“In my family, there is history of medicine but it’s from an unusual perspective with women rather than men. My grandmother was a doctor as was her sister. My grandmother’s sister was the one who actually put Granny through medical school,” she says.

Kathie also had an early brush with the medical profession when she contracted two serious illnesses during her final year of high school – measles and chickenpox.

“Being sick helped me realise the difference it makes when you have someone to look after you and properly diagnose you. Our family GP was an absolutely wonderful person. He had such respect for people and was very inspiring,” she says.

“It was also academically interesting for me to go through the mystery of trying to work out what I had, although my vet student sister diagnosed my measles!”

Deciding on general practice

Kathie recalls two distinct moments in her life that helped cement her decision to become a GP. The first was during her medical degree at The University of Queensland while doing a subject in social medicine.

“My family GP organised for us to visit a family dealing with a significant disease. The assignment was to see how that had affected their lives. It gave me a passion for dealing with people beyond their disease and I think general practice is very much all about that,” she says.

The second experience that steered her towards general practice was during her mandatory hospital rotations when she was debating specialties. Kathie found herself in a dilemma, struggling to pick just one specialty for fear of missing out on others.

“I was interested in obstetrics and gynaecology but then I knew if I pursued this career I wasn’t going to treat children, except as they were being born. And I wouldn’t treat men either,” she says. “To decide that there was going to be a big chunk of medicine that I would rarely see again was something I didn’t want to sign up for. I think all patients and all ages are really fascinating and inspiring.”

Kathie chose a career in general practice and currently practises three days a week at a clinic in Ashgrove.

Juggling work and family

On the personal front, Kathie has five children – four sons and a daughter. When her children were younger, she faced struggles of balancing work and home life. She chose to scale back to part-time hours.

“It worked well for me. I think it’s really important that GPs can take this option. Doctors who are not just in the medical world all day have something extra to offer their patients.”

Kathie’s role as a GP has inspired the next generation of medical students too. She has two sons pursuing medicine; one working as an intern at Bundaberg Hospital this year while the other is in his second year of medicine.

The shift to medical education

As Kathie’s mother was a teacher, she understood the value of education early on. During her career, she jumped at the chance to teach medical students and also did external clinical teaching visits with registrars.

“I really enjoyed it. I was impressed with the standard of registrars and their enthusiasm and hard work,” she says. “But I found myself wondering what happens after this visit, where do they go from here? This role with GPTQ gives me the chance to see the continuity of their learning which is just wonderful.

Advice to registrars

Kathie’s daughter has a disability that took a long time to be diagnosed. This taught her the importance of continuing to ask ‘why’ and she encourages her registrars to do so.

“If things don’t seem to fit into place or something isn’t clicking then ask yourself ‘how can I rearrange the pieces to make them fit?’ or ‘how can I find the resources to get help?” she says.

“When you have that niggle, talk things over with colleagues and keep your curiosity going. It’s a great way keep your passion for medicine alive and prevent burnout.”