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Meet GPTQ Medical Educator, Dr Liz Fitzmaurice

Dr John Buckley (featured image)

It’s been close to four decades since Dr Liz Fitzmaurice became a GP, but her passion for general practice and teaching continues to burn strongly.

“It’s all about long-term patient relationships but it’s also the curiosity factor. GPs are usually the first people to meet the patient in care and start working through the diagnostic. A good example – three different people might walk into my office with a headache. One might be tension-related, one might be a migraine and one might be a tumour. I enjoy thinking it all through and making a plan. It’s a bit like being a detective.”

A slow trip across the Tasman

Liz began her medical career in her home country, New Zealand. After gaining her undergraduate degree at Otago University, she studied and achieved fellowship with the New Zealand College of General Practitioners. After enjoying a fulfilling career working as a GP in Taupo and the stunning Hutt Valley region, the desire to practise in a new environment tempted her.

“I had an interest in going to Timor because as a family, we sponsored community projects there. In 2013, I made the decision to travel and work there and ended up doing pro-bono clinical work in Sidara, a small village outside Dili. I also provided medical care for expatriates and Timorese nationals in Dili itself” she says.

Her husband and youngest daughter joined her in Timor and after a six-month stint, Liz and her husband decided to test the waters in Australia.

“We agreed that we would come for six months and just see. After arriving on the Gold Coast, we were amazed at the generosity and spirit of the people we met. I also got a wonderful job working as a senior lecturer at Griffith University School of Medicine. And that’s why we’ve ended up here – it was too good to resist! We joke about being here permanently ‘for now’,” she laughs.

Choosing a specialty was easy

General practice was always at the forefront of Liz’s mind, even before she started medical school. There were a number of reasons she was drawn to the specialty, including the long-term patient relationships she could develop, and the intriguing nature of never knowing what type of patient would next come through her door. And those reasons keep her practising today.

“I love general practice. Thirty-five years on and I’m sure no other specialty would still keep me as curious or as surprised.”

Liz currently splits her week between three different workplaces doing what she loves best – practising and teaching.

“I work two half days at Parkwood Family Practice on the Gold Coast, a half day teaching in GPTQ’s South East Brisbane hub and the rest of the time teaching the GP program at Griffiths University School of Medicine,” she says.

The importance of the medical educator role

Liz believes her dual medical education roles at Griffiths University and GPTQ ‘have a beautiful synergy’.

“It’s a privilege to support first-year medical students right through to the registrars training to become qualified GPs. It’s exciting to play a part in raising up the next generation of doctors, encouraging and helping them to believe in the future of primary care,” she says.

When teaching, Liz often recalls some inspiring advice she received from Dr Graham Emblen during her GPTQ medical education orientation.

“He told us the medical educator’s role is to teach the art and craft of general practice, rather than just specific topics that will get registrars through their exams. It’s about teaching them to stay curious and engage in lifelong learning. Hopefully, we can also pass on some gems that will make the difference in years to come,” she says.

Wise words for ‘early-stage’ registrars

Teaching across a broad spectrum of student ages and medical stages puts Liz in a unique position to offer sound advice on a large range of topics. But for new registrars, in particular, she has some valuable counsel.

“Not knowing who might next come through your consulting door can be quite anxiety provoking. The very idea of being a generalist and having to understand so much in so many different areas is challenging. Many early-stage registrars find that quite hard to deal with when in fact, that’s the very thing that keeps me inspired 35 years later,” she says.

“I’m still learning and patients still surprise me. I arrive at work not quite knowing exactly what that day will hold. Other medical specialities lack this aspect – they can’t keep me curious, keep me growing and keep me learning. My advice would be to embrace the uncertainty as it’s one of the coolest parts of general practice,” she says.