The Accidental Doctor

October 1, 2018

The Accidental Doctor

Photos Bliss Photography by Leah

This year’s AMA Doctor in Training of the Year is truly exceptional. Combining her role in general surgery at the new Sunshine Coast hospital, Dr Mikaela Seymour also finds time to serve with the Australian Army, volunteer in remote Papua New Guinea, and is an associate lecturer at the University of Queensland – can you believe she entered medicine by accident?

The fact Dr Mikaela Seymour is willing to don her surgical garb and meet me at her place of work on her only fatigue day, just goes to show how dedicated to the cause she is.

“But it happened by accident,” she says of her entry into medicine.

“I had a scholarship to go to law school when I was in high school and at the time I had some friends who were studying for the undergraduate medical admissions test and I was helping them study. I wasn’t doing too bad at the practice tests and thought maybe I’ll sit the exam – then I was offered a spot at Griffith Uni. I jumped in and I’m so glad I did because I can’t imagine doing anything else now.”

Mikaela completed an accelerated three-year undergraduate degree in less than two years and went straight into four years of medical school, graduating in 2015. She is now in pre-surgical training and has another 10 years ahead of her.

“With surgery, the thing I like most is we have the capacity to really change people’s lives, if there’s a specific problem, we can fix that, we have the skills and ability to do that safely and it can really make a big difference to someone.”

Working in general surgery at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH), Mikaela covers general surgery, urology, vascular, ear nose and throat/ENT, and she aspires to become a general surgeon.

“Even though I have 30 or 40 patients in my ward-round, for each of those patients, I’m their doctor and it can be a life-changing event if they need surgery and it’s a privilege to be in that position and care for people when they’re vulnerable,” she says.

“With surgery, the thing I like most is we have the capacity to really change people’s lives, if there’s a specific problem, we can fix that, we have the skills and ability to do that safely and it can really make a big difference to someone.”

Mikaela the accidental doctor
Dr Mikaela Seymour

 

Like many other medical professionals, Mikaela spends a lot of time at work; up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, so how she finds time for all of her other incredible commitments, I’ll never know.

As associate lecturer at the University of Queensland, Mikaela takes third year medical students and mentors them, integrating them into the hospital system.

“Surgery is such a busy term, but you still want to give them a positive experience and have the time to inspire younger medical students to consider surgery as a career, especially more females,” she says.

“The Sunshine Coast is amazing as we have a female director of urology, vascular and general surgery, really strong leaders, but overall we’re a minority, so this is a hub for gender equality here!”

In 2015, Mikaela joined the Australian Army as a Captain in the 2nd Health Support Company at Gallipoli Barracks, and having come to the end of her training, says she will now be deployable.

Mikaela’s training has been in trauma and primary health care, she doesn’t perform surgery like she does at SCUH, but if a soldier has a horrible accident, her focus is on resuscitating and stabilising them so they are well enough to be transferred to another hospital.

“I spend so long here at the hospital, you get so wrapped up in that and forget there’s a whole different world out there. The army allows me to go out and serve the people who are putting their lives on the line for our country and be able to help them do their job and keep them safe.”

In Mikaela’s final year at Griffith University, she was awarded a scholarship with the Ok Tedi Development Foundation and selected for the Queensland Rural Medical Education Placement to Western Province, the largest and most remote province in Papua New Guinea.

“We spent two months at the Kiunga District Hospital, learning about tropical and remote medicine, which was fantastic,” she says.

Mikaela has since returned to Papua New Guinea five times to volunteer as a doctor in training, studying alongside PNG specialists and volunteering on the YWAM medical ship, delivering primary health care to some of the most remote villages in PNG.

“As junior doctors, we work hard for our patients, often at the expense of our own families and wellbeing and need to be mindful of looking after each other so we can care for others.”

Mikaela the accidental doctor

“That was a completely culturally different, but amazing, experience,” she says.

“They achieve a lot with the few resources they have and it puts things into perspective. I’m so grateful for everything we have here, that I can give patients the imaging and pathology and services they need, but at the same time I look at the ‘waste’ we have in this system and look at what they can achieve in PNG with a quarter of what we have here.”

While volunteering at Kiunga District Hospital, Mikaela witnessed the impact that critically low anti-malarial supplies were having on patient treatment and last year coordinated a malaria prescription service and record database of anti-malarial use.

This simple intervention has proven to have a real clinical impact on patient outcomes and is now supported financially by Rotarians Against Malaria.

In recognition of her community service and advocacy at such an early stage of her career, Mikaela has been named the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Doctor in Training of the Year 2018.

“This award was particularly special as it was peer-nominated. Being acknowledged by colleagues who understand the difficulties of junior doctor life helps keep me motivated to try and be the best doctor possible for any patients in my care,” she says.            

“As junior doctors, we work hard for our patients, often at the expense of our own families and wellbeing and need to be mindful of looking after each other so we can care for others. This is something SCUH does really well, and the caring environment reflects the Sunshine Coast community which we serve. I hope my varied experiences can help me continue to connect with patients and achieve optimal health.”

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