I basically supported myself through my University days graduating in debt at a time when we had free education. This was an invaluable but gruelling experience and working in factories, fast food and retail taught me more than my medical studies ever did about approaching the diversity within the general population. I was pretty determined. One half of my family came from poverty stricken post war Europe (the Irish and the North English) with all the subtle discrimination and determinations in character that poverty brings. This included for some of them, being denied scholarships in order to work and survive. The other side came from educated Europe (the Scots) and included scientific heads, engineers and concert pianists. A rather tempestuous mix. I always wanted to do General Practice however briefly thought about Cardiology, Paediatrics or Dermatology.
I have owned my own practice and worked full time for much of my life juggling three kids and a partner who travels a lot. As a professional woman if you don’t know about feminism before you have children, then you certainly will after you have children. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I was born a feminist much to the horror of my two brothers either side of me.
Now I find myself doing a PhD which was an unpredictable part of my journey but one that I am relishing. Despite the terror that it brings, I find it incredibly fulfilling after 25 years in clinical practice and I aim to continue to work for as long as I can. Finding a passion means that this is no longer work for me, although, a PhD is financially challenging and time consuming.
I can remember a senior lecturer in 1982 suggesting that women should not be allowed in Medicine as they were not creative enough. The boys told us this with glee and my response was “Bollocks”. Women are the most creative force on the planet especially when you include child bearing and rearing. I dismissed such archaic attitudes and somehow implicitly recognised them as the parlance of frightened and small men. On the other hand some of my best mentors have been other men encouraging and understanding the difficulties along the way. Nobody yet though, from either within institutionalised establishments or as individual men or women has overcome the inherent career discrimination that is child bearing. Whilst I do not wish to alienate the women or men who do not have children, there is a perspective on care burdens and voluntary domestic labour that is simply not addressed by our culture or our workplace. It places a disproportional burden on women in particular and on men in different ways. The workplace has not kept pace. Disappointingly I continue to hear narratives of gender based discrimination within medicine on bullying and abuse of what is essentially a military hierarchy. Discrimination and bullying are issues about power and whilst the word power may be distasteful for some it is essential for us all. There is also the Power to do good. This is something all of us moving towards an altruistic view, and who are focussed on legacy building need to embrace.
Whilst there is an enormous amount of work to do I would be pleased to be known for encouraging a debate on childcare moving towards a National Framework of Taxpayer funded care. There is no change in discrimination without legislation. The Norway Kindergarten act of 1973, being a case in point.
Women are now more visible in the Medical Workplace than when I started in 1981, although there continues to be evidence of career choice being altered by both overt and covert discrimination in the workplace. This has to move ahead and not be pushed underground into more subtle forms of bullying and harassment designed to hold onto a larger portion of the pie than one’s own abilities might have enabled. It is a very difficult proposition, to challenge entitlement and privilege.
Gender Equality Work
The RACGP have now pushed Child Care onto the national agenda particularly for the largest GP conference they provide annually. This is largely through the efforts and persistence of the GP15 Scientific Committee of which I was a member. I acknowledge the efforts of others being Associate Professor Christopher Hogan, and Associate Professor Lyn Clearihan for their roles. Many Women in Medicine spoke up when I canvassed this on Social Media. None of us do this work alone. Dr Daniel Byrne Chair of the SA and NT Faculty of the RACGP was instrumental in bringing this up at the National Council. It has been supported by the National Council of the RACGP. Gender Equality Work requires a collaborative approach and persistence. I have been the past Chair of the Women in GP Committee and now co chair this sub division of the Victorian Faculty of the RACGP. We provide much behind the scenes advocacy for women doctors and women patients. The Committee also produces an annual conference for Women GPs and we consciously allow time to refresh and to network as well as to educate on clinical matters. Our last conference was opened by Rosie Batty and the conference theme was Domestic Violence. Other work I do includes being involved in developing mentor programs for both the AMA and the RACGP. I have also co developed a national forum for all Australian GPs called GPs Down under. I have 5 other magnificent co administrators who are all talented people and who are passionate about Australian General Practice. If anything I would like to promote that Gender Equality is everyone’s business: that men are also landlocked by stereotypes and we need to question our own cultural and psychological biases that disable our fullest performances as Human Beings. Don’t do it alone. There is a joy in being involved in collaborative work with projects such as these and I would encourage everyone to build collaborative professional networks that both support you and align with your passions. Gender Sexuality Race, Religion and Tribal alliances, can disappear when you have a common purpose.
So many of them! I have experienced fear, anxiety, despair, discrimination, loneliness and overwhelm like many others. What I have learned is that these are temporary and need not be reasons to avoid continuing your passion. I have needed to down tools at times and pay attention to my own needs frequently. I have come to learn that this is a normal part of being an engaged human being. I recommend reading Carol Gilligan’s work on Women finding their voices and the different moral compass we may use negotiating our life. Feminist literature is good particularly for women navigating midlife when the world calls upon us for voluntary labour that may be at variance with our actualising self. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow’s work in the Humanistic psychology field has also been useful. Meditation and Eastern Philosophy has been of great help and is much like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Without suffering however there can be no resilience so again, I can only encourage others to be your fullest version of yourself and that this will not mean the absence of pain. Barriers can become lessons in getting through difficulties or in learning to let go of certain dreams. The art of letting go has been for me, particularly salient. If anything gets beyond my capacity to manage these days I will seek help from within my family, my friends, and my networks or professionally. I have no time to get stuck being crushed by life’s circumstances. There is a great meme circulating which suggests not getting too hung up on any of life’s circumstances as ‘none of us get out of this alive.’ I particularly treasure my humour which is a life saver.
Tips for Young Women
Don’t try to live anyone else’s life but your own. Shakespeare wrote
‘This above all things to thine ownself be true.”
Much is asked of us as women, and much of it is to our own personal financial and career detriment. Ask for help. Build networks. Seek mentors. Study and read broadly. Lead. Focus on the task at hand. When you are having babies, you are going to find it hard to do other things, but there is plenty of life ahead for you all. My answer to those busy years was to run my own practice and answer to no-one with the flexibility I needed; sick children; school concerts; arriving later after school drop offs and being within walking distance for my children, was a major part of keeping me working. I love them fiercely. Have a flexible business model and look out for opportunities. Financial Security and independence is extremely important. Be a realist. Importantly your meaningfulness may not be mine; and mine may not be yours so seek your own true version of what is important to you and define your own passions. Learn to speak up for what it is that you desire and advocate fully for yourself and your version of the world. Overcome the fear of this and of failure and enjoy the ride no matter the outcome. Be your own hero and remember to rest a little along the way. Kindness in life must include yourself and please don’t listen to me; my life is full of mistakes and missed turns. Bite into the cherry fully and let the juice run down your chin. Find your own unique voice. I remain enormously grateful for my opportunities that have come from the pain filled work of the early feminists. I am humbled by their work, their stories, their successes and their failures: they continue to inspire me.