Working in corporate and commercial law for close to 30 years, Kathie Sadler brings a wealth of management and governance experience to GPTQ, as well as a deep passion and commitment to supporting medical educators and registrars.
“I really believe the wellbeing of our community lies in the hands of our GPs. I say this as a consumer and as a mother of three very active, very sporty kids who spent a lot of time in GP waiting rooms! It’s hard to put into words how important they are in supporting everyday Australians just like me.”
Kathie Sadler began her life in Auckland, the eldest girl in a family of three children. At the tender age of eleven, Kathie lost her mother due to complications associated with asthma, but says she was lucky to have another role model to look up to – her mother’s father, Jack.
“My grandfather was the most inspirational figure in my life. He had a manufacturing business and during our school holidays we worked on the factory floor. I watched him treat everyone, from his workers on the floor to the tea lady, just the same as he did the Archbishop and the Cardinal. He treated everybody with respect and as a human being, and it was an extremely inspiring lesson to learn,” Kathie says.
While the early loss of her mother presented challenges, Kathie was determined to keep up her education and completed her high school studies. But it was at this time she faced another hurdle, this time it was her father.
“He was very much against educating women, and held a very strong view that there was no point in me going to university. He did everything in his power to discourage me, so I just moved countries,” she says.
Kathie made the move across the Tasman on her own and began her university studies in Brisbane. She says, “For my family, my move was breaking ground. I do look back now and think ‘What the heck? How did that happen?’ I came to a place where I knew nobody and thought ‘Well, I’ll just start again and do it.’ At the time, it seemed like the logical answer!”
Juggling study, work and family
Kathie’s first love was law. However, she only had a nominal tertiary entrance score from her studies in New Zealand, so she opted to do a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland, majoring in modern political history. Even though she thoroughly enjoyed it, the call of law was too strong so she then did a law degree.
Just as Kathie was finishing her law degree and beginning her legal training, she met her husband, Neil, at a dinner party. He was also a qualified lawyer and partner at a firm, although not at the same company where Kathie was about to start working.
During the coming years, they had three children – two boys and a girl – who are now 27, 25 and 22. Motherhood presented her with her next big challenge – being the first woman at her national law firm to take maternity leave and then return.
“I took off four months after having my first baby and when I returned to my job, I knew I just had to make it work. But I was lucky as my husband was very supportive, and was of the belief that family is a team effort. It never occurred to him that I shouldn’t work as he has a deep respect for women and them using their intellect to achieve. So I wasn’t confronted with opposition at all,” she says.
As her children grew, Kathie soon found herself back studying as she felt it would be beneficial to her work in commercial and corporate law.
“I did a Master of Laws (LLM) and an MBA because I was doing a lot of project work negotiating contracts with overseas companies. I wanted to understand the wider parameters so I could give more practical advice,” she says. “I did a lot of studying when I was at home and I was hoping that I was role modelling for my children, but I think they just ignored it!” she laughs.
Kathie particularly loved the MBA and this was reflected in her results with her achieving the equivalent of a first class honours in both her MBA and LLM. All the while, she continued to practise as in-house counsel at a number of private law firms.
With her third child finishing high school, Kathie decided to go out on her own. She started a company providing legal and commercial advice services. This included working in-house with teams or in acting capacities, including in-house counsel and as an acting CEO.
Pro bono work
Throughout her career, Kathie has always been keen to offer her services gratis to organisations in need. She has over a decade-long association with CitySmart, a Brisbane-based sustainability agency that has implemented a number of well-known and highly successful community projects. She is particularly proud of its Reduce Your Juice program, one of Australia’s first uses of gamification to influence consumer behaviour.
Kathie says: “The program was aimed at people under 35 in the low-income bracket. It taught them how to reduce their energy consumption through gamification on their smart phones or tablets. The results were amazing with project participants reducing their energy bills by, on average, $200-$400 a year.”
She has also served as the non-executive director of Ozcare, and was the former chair of Mercy Community Services. Both organisations have strong community service roots, helping older Australians, those with disabilities and disadvantaged families.
The move to GPTQ
Kathie first came on board with GPTQ in February 2019 to serve as an interim CEO. She was encouraged to apply for the permanent position due to her experience in law, management, risk and governance, and was successful.
“I saw firsthand the work GPTQ are doing in frontline health and was wowed by the real difference they’re making in real time. They’re not just talking about what they need to do, they’re actually doing it. I was so impressed by the support they offer and their determination to ensure every GP they train is the very best they can be,” she says.
Kathie was particularly captivated by GPTQ’s work in Indigenous health. She says participating in their cultural immersion program ‘changed me’.
“That was one of the triggers for me to take the job. Seeing what the GPTQ Indigenous health team achieve made me think ‘this is what I’ve been looking for’. I can’t do what they or our other medical educators do. I’m not the knowledge expert. But I can advocate for, and support, the people on the ground with my skillset, and make sure they have the resources and whatever else is necessary for them to go out and do this valuable work.”
While Kathie has no direct medical education experience, she says she brings a ‘strong passion and commitment’ to her role, and will operate on a team-based approach.
“No one person can achieve our objectives. We can only achieve them through teamwork and collaboration. It’s all about making sure people have the resources, the right skills and the ability to learn and develop, formally or informally. That’s how we thrive and how we are able to give our very best to our registrars. This has to occur at all levels, from admin to medical education to management,” she explains.
Kathie’s hopes for GPTQ
GP training is currently going through a momentous shift with training moving back to the GP colleges. In such an environment, Kathie feels it’s important to work closely with the colleges, as well as with other training organisations.
“It’s widely acknowledged that we are some of the best medical educators in the world. We’ve got other countries clambering to know what we do and how we do it. We’re very lucky here, and our job is to ensure we continue to provide that level of support to our registrars, as they are the future custodians of health and well-being for our communities,” Kathie says.
“GPTQ is an organisation that has a direct impact on primary healthcare outcomes and it feels deeply important to be using my skills and experience in this realm”, shares Kathie.