I am a GP living on the Mornington Peninsula in Rosebud, Victoria. Some of my patients also know that I’m a part-time jazz pianist and composer. I have played the piano since I was nine and fell in love with jazz when I was about 14 years old. But the call to medicine came when I was about 16, probably because I was initially thinking of doing medical research. After doing my medical degree and spending a few years in hospitals, then passing the surgical primary exam, I spent four years doing research in colon cancer toward a PhD. Alongside this, I did locums in general practice, including for a practice in Rosebud, and that is where I have been full-time since 1992. My wife, Jean, has been the inspiration for many of my compositions, but a number of composers and great jazz musicians have inspired my music, from Duke Ellington to the late Clare Fischer. It’s fun trying to strike the right balance between my GP work and jazz. When our children were small, family and medicine had to take priority. Although I kept my piano chops in shape with regular practice, I didn’t play any jazz gigs for seven years and found less time to write music. When the kids were a little older, I found more time to get out and play, and gradually more time to write. I have written music since the late-1970s, but my output was leaner in those busier years. In recent years I have found a little more time, although GP work still occupies the bulk of my daylight hours. Recently I was lucky enough to head to Los Angeles to record 12 of my own jazz compositions with the Grammy-winning composer/arranger Brent Fischer and a cast of fine US jazz musicians. Heading to Hollywood to record my album Colours Of Sound was truly surreal. It’s wonderful to hear people playing my tunes and bringing the music to life. Tunes arise in all sorts of circumstances and from various inspirations. What’s beautiful about Brent’s arrangements is that he’s completely maintained the character of each one, while enhancing them greatly with his incredible skill and the nuances that he delivers. The Australian launch of Colours of Sound takes place in Melbourne on 24 March. The whole experience has been wonderful. For me, music is fun, relaxing, stimulating, exciting and always a great adventure. I don’t see music consciously as therapy because it’s there all the time, more integrated, and I don’t need to switch it on. But I am sure it is good for all of us — doctors included. Creative pursuits of all kinds give purpose and meaning, and I am sure they’re great for everyone’s health.
My radio career was sparked by my patients in general practice, twice. One time, a patient was setting up the now-iconic 3AW breakfast show, Lawyers, Guns, and Money. She needed a medical expert and asked whether I would do it. I said, “Will it make you less stressed?”, and she said it would, so I did. That was in 1990 and about two years later another patient needed a host for a show about sex on radio. She said, “You could do it, you’d be great!” I said, “But I don’t know anything about sex”, and she said, “Yes you do, you do my pap smears, and you ask me about my sex life”. So that led to a two-hour-long talk-back show called Pillowtalk. It aired live each Sunday from 10pm until midnight for six years and was syndicated around the country through the Austereo Radio Network to about 30 stations. I used the name ‘Dr Feelgood’. Nothing was taboo, people could call in about anything. But what set it apart was that there was no such thing as a silly question and no snigger factor. I feel very proud we were able to open so much debate and conversation in the area, and hopefully make it easier for people to talk to their doctors about sex matters. Along with television appearances, I am still working in radio. These days I am privileged to host a two-hour program called Talking Health on Sunday nights on 3AW, with complete editorial control. It’s an in-depth look at a medical topic, such as Parkinson’s disease or gut health. I arrange experts and we take listener calls about it. Menopause always gets the biggest responses, and surprisingly often from guys asking, “I don’t know how to help my partner get through this”. In 28 years of radio, I have only ever had to use the ‘dump’ button once, and that was because the caller was about to defame somebody. I’d like to see more GPs get involved in media and not just at the top of the AMA, but other interested GPs who deserve a wider audience. I also think it’s really important to have a life outside medicine. I am lucky enough to work part-time, and have just completed a Masters of Health and Medical Law at the University of Melbourne. I graduated with my daughter, a lawyer, who completed her Masters of Law. I have a big interest in the interface between health and law, and enjoy advocating for social justice issues. I’ve needed to see a couple of specialists myself, because I have diabetes. It’s a bit of a kick in the guts when you have to be a patient, but it’s still interesting, doctors as patients. It’s a whole new interest area.
Dr Sally Cockburn
I grew up in Geelong, which is very close to Torquay, the mecca of surfing. I love being in the ocean, but my passion at the time was getting into university, studying medicine and becoming a doctor. I missed my opportunity living on the coast to become a surfie chick and become really good at surfing. Learning to surf requires a bit of bravado, a bit of skill and a huge amount of time to practise. I came back to surfing when we moved to Mallacoota. I’m not sure how the town’s people really took that; they weren’t expecting their local doctor to come out surfing. It’s pretty embarrassing learning how to surf with a crowd of local surfers looking at us falling off our surfboards. In summer, I’ll get up at a quarter to six and surf for two hours before work. When you’re out in the ocean you have to be present. You can’t take your concentration off the waves because you’ll just get pummelled. You’re just being there and having to let everything else go. For me, it’s a fast track to relaxation and rejuvenation, which helps me keep going through the full-on stuff that happens in a small, remote general practice.
Dr Sara Renwick-Lau
I have been practising as a GP in Oakleigh, Melbourne, since 1988, after fleeing the Sri Lankan riots five years earlier. I’m one of the lucky ones, who was granted official migration acceptance as I was affected genuinely by the riots. I had been practising as a doctor since graduation in 1971, when the riots against the Tamils started. We were living in the heart of Colombo, when a mob rushed into our house with a knife still dripping with blood at around 10.30am, and pointed it at my husband’s chest. At the time, my two kids were five and six, and it was just us, our parents and some relatives. It was our good fortune that one man in the mob — the one next to the one with the knife who was threatening my husband — asked me what a Sinhalese woman was doing next to a Tamil man, assuming that I was Sinhalese. Luckily, I spoke Sinhalese fluently, although it is not my mother tongue. So I pretended to be Sinhalese and told them I was married to the Tamil man. This made them leave us without killing anyone, but they burnt down our house and we had to take shelter with our neighbours. This event is imprinted deep in my heart, and made me realise that nothing is permanent, except the education that you have and the good that you do in the world. The incident allowed my family and me to migrate to Australia in 1984, on special humanitarian grounds. We came to Melbourne with just $500, as that was all we had. We started our new life with our two kids and nothing else. My husband, who is a civil engineer, got a job after a year. I then studied for and passed the Australian Medical Council exam in 1988. This country is my home and we are so grateful that we have been accepted here, that I feel I should give back to it as long as I live. After the 2004 tsunami, I went back to Sri Lanka to help out in Batticaloa. Since then, I have been doing the same for other countries needing help. I also help out at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne. My passions include helping the poor, gardening, travelling and being a GP. So I am still working just for the love of it. Australia is a ‘sunshine country’ and we are extremely proud to be its citizens.
Dr Devi Yogaranandan
This is a picture of my father. I painted it when I was 43 — the same age he was when he escaped Vietnam in 1980 with my brother and me. Dad spent three years in a concentration camp after the Vietnam War. He was persecuted even after his release because he had been a captain with the South Vietnamese Army — the losing side. When we fled Vietnam, Mum stayed behind. Dad said in the worst-case scenario, she would have three less mouths to feed. It sounds shocking, but these are the kinds of decisions that people are forced to make. Now that I have two children of my own, I am much more aware of how hard it must have been for my parents to make that choice to divide the family. They looked into uncertainty and said, ‘That’s what we have to do; we have to face it.’ We set out on a wooden boat. It was about four metres wide and 12 metres long, and there were about 160 people on board. After five days at sea, we were rescued by a Norwegian oil tanker, which knew a storm was coming that would have obliterated the boat. After we got to Australia, we settled in Melbourne and Dad built a life for us. Mum then came out to join us. I see them every week, and the older I get, the more I understand and am thankful for what they did. Now I reflect on how we treat refugees, and our fear of them, and it strikes me that anxiety is one of the most insidious and pervasive symptoms of our age. And a lot of these fears are based on nothing concrete.
Dr Minh Phan
Jeff: We have a practice in Mount Beauty, a small Victorian country town. Falls Creek Ski Resort is 40 minutes up the road and we also run the clinic there. Our work at Falls Creek is mainly emergency based — particularly alpine and ski trauma — with broken bones, dislocations and ligament strains, and occasionally major trauma. Because we are so isolated there’s no radiology service so we do all the X-rays ourselves. We all have X-ray licences [a qualification permitting isolated GPs to take X-rays] and that adds a satisfying extra facet to the work. Albury-Wodonga, the nearest regional centre with specialist medical services, is 2.5 hours away, along a windy mountain road that is often icy or covered in snow. When it is closed, we can be completely isolated. With skiing, personally I’m happier cross-country skiing. My ideal is to go out about 6.30am and skate around the high plains and then go to work. I actually prefer skiing uphill than downhill — it’s better exercise and you don’t have to worry about the brakes. I was initially reluctant about receiving the Rural Doctor of the Year 2015 award. I don’t see myself as any different to hundreds of other dedicated rural doctors. I am very fortunate to have the support of my wife, Libby, who is also a rural doctor. I couldn’t do what I do without her.
Libby: We work together as a team with Jeff taking the more procedural role. I’m really proud of his achievements. At the moment, I do the school run to Albury with our three daughters four days a week — that’s over 1000km a week. I work in a practice in Albury, as well as in Mount Beauty. We trained a year apart at the University of Melbourne and we always wanted to work in the country. I live 2km away from my parents — this is where I was born and bred. I’ve got a great horse, and a dressage arena with an amazing view. It’s a very special part of Australia.