- On May 7, 2019
- May/June 2019
Pathways through medicine
The NSW Doctor is showcasing the unique stories of doctors, such as Orthopaedic Surgeon, Dr Michelle Atkinson, who have successfully used AMA (NSW)’s Careers Service. Dr Atkinson shares her journey through medicine…
As a teenager, I was interested in a career in medicine as I was fascinated by science and especially biology. I was also interested in mechanical engineering and building a fast car.
I imagined myself as a country GP until I completed an eight-week elective in orthopaedic surgery during third year at the University of Newcastle. The mechanical nature of the solutions to disease and injury in the human body, the science behind the pathology and the way in which a person incapacitated by the issue could be rendered fit and able by the surgery captivated me.
The hospital where I worked, Royal North Shore, had a strong, supportive and interactive intern / resident and registrar community. I thrived amongst the camaraderie, especially during the rural rotations to Taree, Port Macquarie, and Lismore, and the city rotations to Mona Vale and Manly. I came to understand the importance of the experience and knowledge provided by the nursing and physiotherapy staff.
I listened to the advice from registrars and gained a broad experience before narrowing down to my chosen specialty. I rotated through general surgery, plastic surgery (so important for wound care), neurosurgery, intensive care, general medicine and emergency medicine. I was lucky enough to do trauma retrievals by road and helicopter on the Lismore rotation.
As a junior doctor, I believed that hard work in the care of my patients would gain me a position I sought in the following year. I failed to understand the role of mentors and sponsors and of developing a reputation in the orthopaedic community wider than that in the hospital where I worked.
A mentor is a person who will open your eyes to the wonders of their specialty and to the practice of medicine. A mentor does not need to come from your desired specialty. They will be older and experienced and comfortable being vulnerable and sharing their good and their bad decisions along their career journey.
A mentor will listen to the stories of your ups and downs, will support and guide you through the difficult moments and refresh your enthusiasm for your career. A mentor may also be a sponsor. A sponsor is a person who will look out for opportunities whether they are courses to improve your knowledge and skills, conferences in which to network and build your reputation, or positions that are available. They will speak about you and make recommendations to others. They will provide career strategies.
After establishing my career, I sought opportunities to challenge myself and to lift those up who are climbing the ladder behind me. I gained a scholarship to complete the year-long government initiative Women in Leadership Australia. I present at careers evenings, medical student forums, Indigenous workshops, support junior doctor initiatives, and participate in panels on diversity in healthcare. I am part of the RACS NSW committee, a diverse group of surgeons dealing with challenges in surgery and developing equality in medicine. I come from a family of scientists and am passionate about improving Australian women’s participation in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) and at the Sydney Adventist Hospital I have developed an annual breakfast inviting 400 Year 10 females from 10 neighbouring schools to enthral them with the career pathways of 10 STEMM professionals and provide hands-on activities such as balloon angioplasty.
I travel within Australia and overseas and operate with surgeons performing similar operations to myself and we share our knowledge, discuss our outcomes, and enhance our capabilities. We continue to share our cases electronically and seek further opinions on the difficult and unusual aspects. I am active within my associations and specialty societies and in contact with my peers to avoid operating within a silo.
I seek opportunities to utilise my surgical skills and have joined the Australian Defence Force. This is an arena where respect is paramount, and diversity is actively encouraged, both up and down the chain of command. With respect and clear communication and boundaries within a team, individuals are comfortable in their workplace and enjoy participating and producing great outcomes. People allow their sense of humour and their happiness to shine.