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Meet Medical Educator, Dr Maura Harvey

Dr Brendan Triggs (featured image)

Dr Maura Harvey has a breadth of experience to share, from her time as a business owner of three practices in rural Queensland, to her current sojourns around Australia as a GP locum.

“Practising rurally gives you the chance to make a really big difference. Doing more in the community by looking after people in place saves them so much angst. They don’t have to go down to the scary ‘Big Smoke’ and deal with all the traffic, the skinny lanes and the parking.”

From forestry to medicine

While Dr Maura Harvey called Cooroy home for a large portion of her adult life, she spent her childhood in Canberra.

“Back in the sixties, that meant there were sheep in the backyard. We wandered around a lot because there were no fences. As money didn’t grow on money trees, we caught rabbits and foraged for mushrooms to supplement the family meals,” she says.

During high school, medicine wasn’t on her radar as she was keen to follow her passion for the environment.

“I’d always been a bit of a greenie, so I enrolled in forestry at ANU. During orientation week, I noticed a monoculture philosophy around me. Everyone wanted to grow timber, cut it down, make pulp, and basically destroy the country. And I thought ‘Oh no, I can’t stay around these people for the next three years!’ So I pulled out of forestry thinking ‘Oh fudge cake, what now?” she explains.

“One of my high school best friends and academic arch rival had enrolled in medicine. And I thought ‘If Mary can do medicine, I can too!’ So it’s because of Mary that I ended up in medicine, and I can’t thank her enough.”

A fateful trip to Papua New Guinea

After moving up to Sydney to study medicine, Maura took the opportunity to work in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as a medical student. It was also during this period that she chose paediatrics as her specialty.

“I loved my time in PNG so much that I went back as a paediatric registrar. It was part of an exchange program with the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney. We’d backfill for their paediatric registrars who travelled to Australia for more training and clinical experience,” she says.

Her time in PNG proved to be life changing, both personally and professionally.

“I met my Australian husband there. He was running a primitive tourist lodge on the Sepik River. Three days after he met me, he proposed and I just laughed in his face!” she says.

“I had attended a Catholic school and the nuns told us what attributes to look for in a marriageable bloke, so on the night he proposed, I considered the nuns’ checklist. He scored nine out of 10, which would academically earn him a high distinction.  I wondered if that was enough to marry the man as the nuns never told us that bit!” she laughs.

“The next morning, I told him ‘I’ll raise your bluff mate and I’ll marry you.’ This past Australia Day, we celebrated our 30th anniversary.”

Deciding on General Practice

Maura returned to Australia and continued to train as a paediatrician. But when her professor told her cohort the only way to guarantee passing the first time was to work at least 120 hours a week on the wards, she reconsidered.

“As a single girl, I could do it. As a newly married woman, there was no way. So I switched into the general practice training scheme with a theme of rural or remote. That way I could still get that breadth of clinical exposure and clinical reasoning I loved so much. And I’ve stayed there ever since,” she says.

Once Maura made the decision to become a GP, she was also no longer beholden to Sydney. She says ‘within a nanosecond’ they decided to head up to the warmth of the Sunshine Coast in her husband’s home state.

After a number of years practising rurally, Maura and her husband took the plunge and started their own practices – three to be precise in Cooroy, Pomona and Imbil.

“We designed the buildings and built the premises. My husband did the IT and much of the management, not to mention running the farm and ferrying the kids to and from school. He was my number one facilitator for our semi-subsistence lifestyle,” she smiles.

Once their children grew up, they got itchy feet and sold the practices.

“I worked on for two years as that was part of the contract. When the golden handcuffs were unlocked, we were free to go and work anywhere. So I now do GP country relieving and we cherry pick where we want to go according to family events, folk music, festivals, ocean crusaders, volunteering events, as well as kayaking and bushwalking opportunities,” she says.

Maura is currently locuming in Cygnet, Tasmania, a location that perfectly meets her and husband’s needs and passions.

The merits of working rurally

With her focus on sustainability and the environment, it’s no surprise Maura decided to both practise rurally and raise her family in a country community.

“The kids grew up on 45 acres of semi-subsistence farming, so they ate some of their ‘pets’, they grew their fruit and veggies, and they caught their fish in the dam,” she says.

“Everyone in town knew my kids, even if my kids didn’t necessarily know who my patients were. There was this lovely village mentality as they’d all look out for my children while I was at work as they rode their bicycles to school or played with friends.”

Maura says she loved the chance to become truly ingrained in the community, getting to know people over time and deeply understand who they were. She says one of her favourite things about rural practice was the continuity of care, especially having the chance to deliver the babies of children she’d delivered decades prior.

“That sense of belonging when you work in a rural or remote area and the appreciation the community gives back to you is the most satisfying and fulfilling thing,” she smiles.

Supporting GPTQ GP supervisors

In addition to her practising and business owner duties, Maura has also enjoyed time as a medical educator. She started out by supervising registrars in her own practice, and then took on a position as a medical educator for James Cook University, ACRRM and now GPTQ.

“My role is in GP supervisor development. It’s really about sustainability and building capacity within the healthcare system. If our supervisors are empowered, they can help more registrars who can then help more patients,” she explains.

“Our supervisors all know what they’re doing. My job is to provide encouragement, support and professional development where it’s needed.”