GPs are highly intelligent, capable people with a passion for providing medicine that embodies ‘whole of person’ care.
Dr Sean Mitchell was no exception and more.
Affable, generous and warm—Sean was a hit in his role as GP Registrar at Kalwun Aboriginal Medical Service on the Gold Coast, and as a keen surfer, his affinity with the ocean was clear to anyone who knew him.
He had come to General Practice after transitioning out of a demanding hospital career in acute care, intent on making a difference in community medicine and keen to achieve better work-life balance.
In selecting GPTQ to pave his GP training journey he had also discovered a natural ability for mentoring—others were drawn to Sean’s signature combination of zestful energy and steady composure. He quickly became a valued member of GPTQ’s medical education team, taking on roles as an Assistant Registrar Liaison Officer and Registrar Medical Educator to support new GP training recruits and hospital junior doctors.
In 2019, however, tragedy struck.
In July of that year, Sean was feeling fatigued and he was suffering symptoms that seemed to suggest Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
At the time he was working full-time at Kalwun and nearing the completion of his RACGP Fellowship study so, like many medical professionals, he attributed these issues to the current stresses in his life, made some small changes and pushed on.
By October he was feeling worse, but waited until after his Fellowship exams in November to have a colonoscopy.
The result was devastating: five days after completing his final Fellowship OSCE exams Sean was diagnosed with stage four Bowel cancer with metastases in the liver and lymph nodes.
His cancer had the BRAFV600E mutation that was the rarer-type (10% of all bowel cancer diagnosis) and aggressive. He had an undetectable CEA and CA 19.9 marker, which is often used in monitoring and detecting bowel cancer.
He began treatment immediately and over 16 months fought a valiant battle, channelling everything he had into the hope he could be one of the small but lucky minority who would beat the dire prognosis.
Tragically, it wasn’t to be.
Sean passed away on 7 April 2021.
The legacy he leaves behind as a talented and compassionate young doctor who loved people and was always ready to listen is nothing short of extraordinary.
Interviewed for GPTQ’s Annual Report in 2019 he described his job at Kalwun as the perfect gig.
“My patient base is broad—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous families, women needing pregnancy and antenatal care, people from low socio-economic backgrounds and some from affluent backgrounds, local footballers, young people from remote communities moving here for education or job opportunities. They are a diverse mix and I love it. I love my job!”
Sean is remembered as special in so many ways.
A loving husband, brother, son and friend—throughout his illness he managed to hold onto his characteristic selfless, easygoing approach to life and embrace the people around him. He was a highly creative person and drew on his creative side during this time, continuing to play music and pursue his other hobbies, such as juggling.
A passionate educator of members of his own profession—he wanted to raise awareness among all doctors about the importance of having your own, trusted GP and making time and space in life for self-care and regular health checks.
A public health campaigner—Sean was also keen to raise awareness in the community of bowel cancer and the need for increased screening rates among younger Australians.
After his shock diagnosis Sean quickly became determined to live through his illness rather than suffer through it.
He did this by maintaining his relationship with the ocean and by holding everyone around him close.
General Practice Training Queensland wishes to express its heartfelt condolences to Sean’s wife Michelle, his parents Andrea and Tony and his sister Rohani for this tragic loss. Sean was a much loved member of the GPTQ family. He is greatly missed.
Sean’s podcast interviews
Sean recorded two podcast interviews during his illness that highlight his extraordinary nature and provide us with important lessons about life. You can listen to the interviews here: