Advocate for working and living in the country

24 August 2020

Dr Elise Ly loves rural medicine – the diversity of her work, the cradle to grave medicine, and a chance to be immersed in communities and contribute to equity issues in access to healthcare.

She is a GP obstetrician based in South Gippsland, Victoria, and came to being a rural generalist after stints as a junior doctor in Far North Queensland and Melbourne. A mother of four, she is married to another GP obstetrician and they live on their farm in the Strezeleki ranges. It’s not a bad place to be in lockdown at all. There are plenty of bonfires, trail walks, birdwatching and paddock-to-plate farm produce projects, such as the 18 kilos of fennel and chilli salami that is curing in their shed.

After completing the obstetric diploma, Elise volunteered at a rural hospital in South Africa for six months, which opened her eyes to the possibilities of what could be achieved with very limited resources. “There was certainly some sadness, but also a sense of thrill, purpose and a lot of hope.”

Elise has worked in Leongatha as a GP obstetrician for the last 8 years, and finds it a bonding experience to share stories with her pregnant women about the ups and down of pregnancy, birth and parenting. The cycle of life continues, as she delivers some of her womens’ third babies.  Contrast this with the occasional locum placements up in Far North Queensland or the Northern Territory, which does not seem that different from South Africa at times. Getting to travel in a chopper to work, spotting dugongs along the way, doing a caesar in a theatre looking out at the sparkling aqua waters of the Great Barrier Reef, learning about the complexities and richness of indigenous communities –  this is what is possible with the ticket of being a GP obstetrician.

“It is both fulfilling and challenging at times,” Elise says when asked about why she loves her job. “However, the biggest gains in life are often like this. Being a GP is a bit like being a parent. To the outside, on paper, what you do and deal with can seem quite mundane. Yet the immense rewards and profound impacts can be found in the most quiet and ordinary of moments.”

Support is key

With three boys, aged 7, 5 and 2, and a 7-week-old daughter, Elise certainly has her hands full. “Nothing has knocked me off my pedestal more than when I became a pregnant patient and then a parent. Life has truly become messy now, and in the process of being forced to accept it, I have paradoxically come to embrace it and be more flexible to managing uncertainty.”

“Support is key” Elise says when asked about what advice she would give to young doctors starting out their careers. “Find your tribe who you can be completely real with and keep making the effort to touch base, despite the temptation to get lost in your own busy-ness,” she says.

“And read anything of Brene Brown. She has taught me to not confuse perfectionism with striving for excellence.

“Earlier in my career fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations or being criticised all affected my mental health, impeding my adaptability and capacity for lateral thinking. As Brene would say, this kept me outside the arena where striving and success unfold. Choose courage over comfort.”

Check out some photo of Elise and her family on their farm at Leongatha



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