02 November 2017

Dr Odette Phillips health professional of the year


Dr Odette Phillips has spent the last 10 years working for Katherine West Health Board and describes an unfaltering desire to practice medicine in remote Australia.

 “I waited until my last kid had turned 18 and I looked for a remote job. GP NT, as it was called at the time, offered me to work at Katherine West and I really enjoyed it. I would come during the New Zealand winter and then I started to get brave and come in the wet season as well. For the first 8 years with Katherine West, I would come for short and long-term locum positions. Since early 2015 I have been in the NT full time as the Senior Medical Officer for Katherine West. Just this year I’ve had the opportunity to do some of my town based work back in New Zealand. This has been very valuable to me as it has enabled me to spend more time with my partner, family and friends based in Auckland New Zealand, whilst still working.

“From the very beginning of my career as a GP I knew that I wanted to work remote. As a child, my grandfather and grandmother used to donate toys to Aboriginal children in missions. I was always fascinated by them going off to the missions with a combivan full of toys in the 60s. For Odette, her role of Senior Medical Officer at Katherine West Health Board is one of the first jobs that employ all her skills. “I can juggle quite a few balls at a time and I enjoy being able to do that”.

Over the years I have learnt a lot about Aboriginal health and when you get to my age as a GP, you really do have some wisdom. I feel this job uses that. I work a third of my time clinically and two thirds in town.  I work collegially with the other GPs at KWHB plus I advise nurses on clinical things and work in community as a clinician.

 “I have been able to come to the NT over a long time because I love it, but also, my time back in NZ enables me to regroup and refresh my energy. I am not constantly exposed to the day to day and as a consequence I can support people who are out bush for long periods, a bit better. I don’t feel burnout when I look at the gigantic task. I can feel helpless but not hopeless. It is an interesting kind of energy”.

Odette’s advice for gives to a GP registrar who was thinking of training and working in the NT is simple. Come!

“There is great autonomy here that isn’t in the city as well as exposure to a great combination of acute and chronic medicine. I’ve decided to never work mainstream again, I really feel like a doctor working here as I am not bound by revenue and 15 minute consults. Also, I like being put to the test and I manage problems that you would never manage in the city as a GP”

Another interesting thing about working in remote health is access to specialists. “Whenever I talk to a specialist in Darwin in general they are so helpful. They are grateful that you are there and they try to help instead of asking for the patient to be referred as would be the case in the city”.