Dr Kat Abeykoon chats to us about achieving GP Fellowship and embarking on her next great role: parenthood
In July 2021 Kat Abeykoon officially became a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
Eight years post degree and with a masters in critical care also under her belt (Kat had originally planned to become an Anaesthetist), she says her hard won Fellowship moment felt like ‘relief’, for all of the obvious reasons.
“I guess it was that sensation of ‘ahhh’, finally I can stop all the running around, the study and the exams,” Kat says.
“I can let go of the imposter syndrome and start to relax a little into who I am as a GP.”
Since 2021 Kat has been based at Silky Oaks Medical Practice in the Brisbane bayside suburb of Manly West.
Upon achieving her Fellowship she became a permanent member of the practice team.
Kat describes Silky Oaks as a ‘dynamic’ and ‘really progressive’ family medical practice — one which caters to a broad patient base.
“We see youth who are struggling with mental health issues, women and men on the margins, families of all socio-economic backgrounds, and with an aged care facility located close by there is also a significant elderly patient demographic,” she explains.
“I love the variety of work that this brings,” Kat says.
“I’m treating all types of cases and establishing a doctor-patient relationship with patients I hope I will be able to care for over many years.
“The team environment at Silky Oaks is also pretty wonderful,” she adds.
Kat works alongside nine established GPs, as well as psychologists, a physiotherapist, social worker, and the practice’s team of specialist nursing staff.
Silky Oaks Medical Practice is also a committed GP training practice, which means there can be up to six GP Registrars undertaking training placements there at any time.
Life after Fellowship
Kat says the relief she felt at becoming a fully-fledged GP soon gave way to something more important, and it is only through space and reflection that she’s been able to crystallise what this is.
“I think it has been a transition out of the mindset of ‘you must sacrifice yourself constantly to your career and to the training,” she explains.
“Those years are hard and working and studying for exams puts a lot of strain on you as a person, and on your relationships.
“Coming out of that I’ve started to put in place more boundaries — I’m trying to make a clearer delineation between my work life and my home life.”
Kat’s most recent life endeavour — starting a family with husband Sudath, who is also a doctor and works in emergency medicine — has played a part in her shift in thinking as well.
“The arrival of this new little person [Kat and Sudath welcomed a baby boy in March] means I simply can’t approach my work life in the same way I did before,” she says.
“For example, I won’t have the luxury of saying ‘sure’ to seeing a walk-in patient at the end of the day anymore because it’s not just me and my husband I have to think about now; I have commitments to meet as a parent.”
Maternity leave and returning to work
Kat says she hasn’t made any hard and fast rules about her return to work after the arrival of her son.
Currently her thinking is that she will look to make a ‘soft’ return to consulting at around the four month mark, taking on a roster of just a few hours a week back at Silky Oaks Medical Practice.
This plan has been developed from observing other female GPs who have taken maternity leave at the practice, along with factoring in her own experience of time away from medicine during her training years.
“I took a year off during my residency and found it really hard to go back into clinical work after having that break,” Kat explains.
“It highlighted for me how quickly de-skilling can happen.”
Kat says she feels very lucky to be part of a workplace — and a field of medicine — that has a strong level of in-built flexibility.
“Silky Oaks is a very supportive workplace and a family-friendly one,” she explains.
“There is a childcare centre next to the practice, which is awesome,” she says.
Had Kat continued down the Anaesthetic career pathway, she knows planning her maternity leave would have come with more challenges.
“I am grateful for the fact that there are a lot more options for women having children in General Practice as opposed to women working in other specialties,” she says.
“If I was working as a consultant Anaesthetist (or hospital specialist) right now, I could try to negotiate part-time hours, but most hospitals want full-time staff, which would make it difficult to find such a position,” Kat explains.
“And if I was still in the training program for Anaesthetics whilst having a baby, then it would be quite difficult to find a part-time position or job share as there just isn’t enough funding for extra training positions.”
Kat does note that one downside for GPs taking maternity leave is that if they are contractors, which many are, they won’t receive paid maternity leave from their clinic. They can, however, access parental leave through Centrelink.
Supporting the next crop of registrars
With the rigours of training still fresh in her mind, Kat is passionate about making a contribution to medical education for the benefit of those coming behind her and says she intends for teaching to be part of her career long-term.
“For the past two years I have been working with General Practice Training Queensland as a registrar Medical Educator giving lectures to interns and residents in various Brisbane hospitals to demonstrate the breadth and typical day-to-day life of a GP; and hopefully encouraging them to consider GP as a viable speciality to enter,” Kat explains.
When she returns to Silky Oaks after her maternity leave Kat will be taking on some teaching with medical students doing practical placements at the practice.
“I love teaching,” she says.
“When I worked as a resident in Victoria I both witnessed and experienced bullying, so I know how important it is to have someone to look up to who can give you guidance and support.”