It’s no wonder they call the Commonwealth Games ‘The Friendly Games’, because they truly are. As the Chief Medical Officer for the Gold Coast games in 2018, I had the privilege of working with a multidisciplinary team of highly trained doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, podiatrists, optometrists and radiologists. It’s an experience I will never forget. It all began in 2014 when I was appointed to the role, four years out from the event. I have always been passionate about playing sport and sports medicine. As a GP, it complements a large part of what I already do. I have been involved in providing and organising sports medicine coverage since 1994, including volunteering at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006. My role this time around became steadily busier leading up to the games and involved recruiting and rostering a team of 1400 volunteer clinicians to work in the polyclinic based in the games village, which operated for 23 days and provided up to 75% of the healthcare needed by the 4200 athletes living there. From Coolangatta to Cairns we provided a medical team at every competition venue, including 11 training venues. But what many people don’t know is that we also provided medical care for more than 2000 team officials in the games village and to spectators at every venue. I’m always blown away by the spirit and camaraderie that we see during game times from the medical team we put together. Every clinician pitches in and works so collaboratively to ensure the athletes are at their physical peak at the right time to perform. There’s something incredibly inspiring about being around such highly-motivated people, and I don’t just mean the athletes. The energy at the Commonwealth Games is incredibly collegiate, with athletes from 71 countries both large and small — everyone has the chance to compete. It’s also really rewarding to be able to embed elite sports physios in teams that have come from countries which have limited resources for the duration of the games. The other thing I love about these games, in particular, is that they also include the para-sports program — some 300 athletes competing in seven sports within the same program. The highlight for me this year, just as in Melbourne in 2006, was watching the Australian swimming team on three of the finals nights. They were performing incredibly well, the venue was packed and it was exhilarating to see the final two events, the medley relays, both won in the last stroke.
Because Australian medical exams are expensive, I had to do extra ambulance shifts in India to make money to sit the exams. I worked double what I would usually. I would do 24-hour shifts in ICU and during my days off, I would do one- or two-hour ambulance shifts to get money. I was working 60-70 hours a week. There was one interesting incident — actually, I shouldn’t say interesting, because it was pretty scary. We were taking a patient from one city to another. While coming back, we had to drive for seven or eight hours. The driver of the ambulance wasn’t really alert, but I didn’t realise because I was sleeping behind him in the ambulance. Suddenly I heard a bang and then the ventilator fell on top of me. I had a big split on my right knee, a big wound. Then I realised people outside had more injuries than me. I stepped outside and saw the ambulance had crashed. There was another car that had hit a tree. I think the ambulance was hit from the side. The driver had died and one of the passengers was severely injured. I tried to resuscitate him, but unfortunately, we couldn’t save him. Another ambulance arrived and we took the other passengers to hospital. I was taken to the hospital as well. I had a few sutures in my knee and you can still see the scar. I think having experiences like that help in general practice. One of the good things about being a GP now is that I get more time off.
Dr Devesh Dhulekar
Becoming a GP wasn’t accidental, but it wasn’t planned from the beginning either. I started working in a local pathology lab. Then I went overseas, doing the same thing in West Africa. When I returned, I continued to work in laboratory science while doing a Master’s degree in nutrition. After completing that, I landed a health promotion job, but I found that difficult because it was mostly an administrative job, whereas I’m more of a doer. So I became a medical officer in the Royal Australian Navy, serving on ships, doing some border patrol and exercises in South-East Asia. I was taking care of the troops, but I also participated in a lot of their daily activities. I was more ancillary than specifically medical. In total, I spent two-and-a-half years on ships and six years in the navy, including training. The majority of the things I’d see were mundane, but occasionally you’d have a crisis. It was either chaos or totally quiet. I think you make of general practice what you want. If you want to treat coughs and colds all day, you can restrict yourself to that and patients gravitate towards you with that. But I don’t accept the daily grind that people sometimes associate with general practice. It doesn’t have to be like that at all.
Dr Ashraf Saleh
When I finally passed my RACGP fellowship exams, it was sort of like winning gold at the Olympics. Not that I’m an athlete, but after all I had been through, it was a recognition of the years of hard work, training and time away from family. It felt like I finally belonged. I thought, “Right, now I am a part of this thing.” I came from Malaysia in 2006, with my partner and baby. We didn’t have any intention of staying, but, after a couple of months, we liked Australia a lot and decided to stay on. For the first four years, I worked in Bundaberg Hospital in Queensland, and later in Brisbane. I then left public hospitals to do locum work in Alice Springs, Broken Hill and a few rural locations around Queensland. By mid-2011, I’d applied to be on the college’s general practice program, and was lucky enough to be accepted. Being an IMG, I was on the rural pathway. My first job was in Dalby, and every week I would drive home to Brisbane. When I finally got back to Brisbane in 2014, I got my fellowship and my moratorium was coming to an end. It is a tough road for IMGs. I have seen many colleagues give up along the way and go back to their country, or change careers. They faced so many hurdles and were unable to get through all of them. If you want to be a GP, you need to seek guidance from the college and have the determination to get where you want to be. But it’s worth it in the end.
Dr Kah Ho
I’m a doctor and a rap musician. I got drawn to hip-hop music growing up, when artists like Public Enemy and 2Pac would use the genre as a tool for political activism. At the same time, I wanted to pursue my interest in science and be at the coalface of healthcare. I didn’t know where a career in hip-hop would fit among the many years of study ahead of me, and how it would be received by my colleagues, so I initially kept my medical and musical endeavours separate. Since then, I have worked as a resident in tertiary and rural hospitals, as a registrar in Aboriginal and antenatal health services, and as a fellow in a university and youth mental health clinics. I’ve witnessed a wide spectrum of human experience, and how social issues can affect health outcomes. I released my debut album Made of Jade in 2013, about my experience as a Vietnamese Australian, and I’m working on my second album Agenda, which covers topics I’ve come across as a clinician, including young carers, organ donation, asylum-seekers and mental health. I am a member of the Queensland Leadership Group for the Institute of Creative Health, and have performed shows in Brisbane, Sydney and New York. I no longer have to hide my double life, and I’m proud to be a part of a global, evolving tradition of political hip-hop activism.
Dr Tu Pham
Dad started the practice in 1977. I joined as of this year. A spot opened up within the practice and it had always been a goal of mine to work here. Growing up with Dad running a practice, I got a glimpse into what running a general practice was like and what the actual aspects of general practice were like. That was a big inspiration for me actually starting medicine and then choosing the path of general practice. It seemed like a logical step to then join Dad. We do talk shop during the day. We bounce ideas off each other about difficult cases. I like to think I learn from him and, hopefully, I can give him some things he might not already know. He’s a handy resource and a good mentor as well.
Dr Tim O’Brien (right)
and Dr Christopher O’Brien
I worked in India. And then did an elective in Papua New Guinea. The next place I went to was in New Guinea again, in Bougainville. Then I worked several places in Indonesia, mostly east Indonesia. I did a couple of locums for International SOS in Beijing. Then was country medical director for them in Nigeria. The variety and scope of the medicine you see is fantastic. Working in Bougainville, when I was there, that would’ve been like being a country GP in Australia 70 years ago. You would just do everything — caesarean sections, minor operations. We had a proper Australian-trained expatriate surgeon, but he was far too busy at the public hospital to be bothered with appendectomies or any of that stuff. That was left to us to deal with. I’ve still got itchy feet. My problem is I had a serious motorcycle accident three years ago. I have difficulty walking now. While my feet itch, I have trouble getting them to move around the place.
Dr Patrick O’Neill
I am completely nuts about my dog, Tambo. He is an Australian terrier. People say you buy dogs that look like yourself. The funny thing is, my dog has exactly the same hair colour as me. When he was a puppy, he was all black and tan, but he has since lost all the black. I am a redhead, and when we are snuggling, you can’t tell where my hair ends and his begins. When we go for a walk, my daughter says it looks like a bit of my hair has fallen on the ground and is running alongside me. I have knitted my dog two jackets. My friends roll their eyes, they can’t believe it. I sent one a photo of the new jumper, and she did not know how to reply.