Dr Judith Gardiner

12 July 2021

Dr Judith Gardiner is a GP Obstetrician and current Diplomate Board Director, advocating for Diplomates and rural women’s health.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in suburban Melbourne. My parents were post-war immigrants from Holland. Following a good catholic education, I took advantage of Gough Whitlam’s free university to study medicine at Monash University.

Where did you work?
My husband (also a doctor) and I decided on careers in rural general practice as specialising would have necessitated me forgoing any thoughts of having children – nannies and childcare were a distant dream in the 1970s. After two years of residency in Melbourne and with a Diploma of Obstetrics under my belt, we headed to England to practice on the poms for two years. Most of my time there was spent in Liverpool working as an O&G senior house officer.
On return to Australia, we moved to a small Victorian rural town and set up practice. We remained there for almost ten years and loved the rural lifestyle but were forced to move on because of increasing work pressures leaving us with little time to spend with our three young daughters.
We then made the big move to Mackay in Queensland where I assumed that I would need to stop providing full obstetric care. Within weeks, however, I was asked to assist in the antenatal clinic at the Base Hospital and shortly after, to provide labour ward cover. I also continued to deliver my private patients. I eventually concentrated my workload to provide obstetric and women’s health services only, including establishing a private, bulk-billed family planning clinic within the public hospital, which continues successfully to this day. All good things come to an end and after seventeen years there was a change in specialist obstetricians in Mackay and I was forced to cease intrapartum care.
I had referred my patients on and was rearranging my work schedule when I received an unsolicited request to provide locum obstetric cover in Gove in the Northern Territory. I persuaded my husband to accompany me for a month and we subsequently moved there full-time. Our daughters had all left home and fate seemed to have stepped in.
I loved my work in Gove. It was very challenging, but I was able to work with a team of exceptional GPs, nurses, midwives and other health providers. Seventy per cent of the women we cared for were Indigenous and the remainder were from all corners of the world, including our own hospital staff. The local Yolgnu women were a delight to care for and I learnt some of their culture and traditional customs.
We moved to Port Macquarie on the Mid-North Coast of NSW where I now work part-time providing women’s health services. I still return regularly to Gove to provide locum obstetric cover and catch up with old friends. My work-life has changed several times over the decades.The main difference now is that my free time is now my own and I can go to bed at night and know no one will call me to labour ward.

Why did you choose medicine?
I have no idea. I said I wanted to be a doctor when I was in Grade two – I topped my class so someone probably said to me you should be a doctor. I never wavered until I was in Year twelve and wondered if it was the right choice for me. No one in my family had ever studied medicine. I remember going to a careers advice centre in Melbourne and coming out believing that it was definitely the right path for me. I have never regretted that decision.

Why O&G?
I fell in love with obstetrics when I trained for my diploma of obstetrics. It was nice to work with patients who were generally well and to assist them through pregnancy and birth. I was probably inspired by the fantastic team that trained me and the predominantly migrant women that we cared for. In the UK I was often appalled at how many women were left to labour on their own with a CTG machine, while staff played cards at the nurses’ station. I was determined to focus on women-centred care with as much continuity of care as possible. I have been rewarded with lifelong friendships with many of my patients, and with the privilege of caring for colleagues who had confidence in my care.

What field do you work in and what are you passionate about?
I currently work entirely in GP -based women’s health. I am passionate about providing quality advice to women of all ages about their reproductive health, especially trying to reach women who struggle to access mainstream medical services.
What does a normal day involve?
When I am in Port Macquarie, I work three-and- a- half days a week consulting in local general practices. I play tennis three times a week with a small, local social group, a pleasure I have had to forego for many years because of being on-call and family commitments. The rest of my time is taken up by College work – reading papers, submissions and agendas, attending Zoom meetings, and writing, preparing and conducting examinations, etc.

Challenges? Wins?
Working in Gove I faced many challenges with some wins. Trying to optimise care for remote Indigenous pregnant women by advocating for improved obstetric care, for example, access to early dating scans and Down Syndrome screening, offering pre-discharge postnatal Implanon and establishing outreach clinics, as well as regular contact and support for the remote midwives.
When the current RANZCOG Board decided to appoint a Diplomate representative, I was offered the position.I have been able to advocate for Diplomates and rural women, and highlight their unique needs, especially with training, support, upskilling and the risks associated with distant obstetric care. Rural obstetric services are in crisis, with the closure of many small birthing units and a severe shortage of qualified staff, and this is now recognised by RANZCOG and the government, with both organisations exploring ways to encourage increased uptake by graduates of rural placements.
An additional challenge during COVID-19 was the need to change to online examinations. We were preparing for our DRANZCOG OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Exam) in March last year when lockdown hit and we needed to cancel. Cases needed to be changed to adapt to a remote format, which was particularly challenging for our procedural stations. The College staff worked their magic to move examiners, invigilators, SPs and candidates between virtual rooms and formulated a unique, successful online scoring mechanism. There was a huge sigh of relief when the exam was completed without any major hiccups enabling graduates to move to workplaces desperately waiting for them.
Any future goals?
Retirement and handing the baton to others to continue this work. Travel would be nice, too.

What activities are you currently engaged in at the College?
  • RANZCOG Board member
  • Diplomate representative on Council
  • Chair Diplomates’ Committee
  • Vice Chair CCDOG
  • Examiner DRANZCOG
  • Exam co-ordinator DRANZCOG Advanced OSCE
  • Committee member/Diplomate representative of:
    • Curriculum Advisory Group
    • Examination and Assessment Committee
    • Gender Equity and Diversity Committee
    • Honours Committee
    • Reconciliation Action Plan working group
    • Sexual and Reproductive Health Special Interest Group
    • Women’s Health Committee
    • Workforce Planning working group
We need more Diplomates to engage in College activities to help raise the profile of GP Obstetricians and to share the workload. We have a great team of Diplomate examiners and have recently expanded the Diplomates’ Committee to include all State and Territory Diplomate representatives and a DRANZCOG Trainee Representative, as well as encouraging the co-opting of DRANZCOG trainee representatives for our State and Territory Committees. We need input from Diplomates at all levels of experience to help us move forward to teach, mentor and assess our Diplomate trainees so that we have a vibrant GP obstetric workforce in the future that caters to the needs of rural and remote women in Australia and New Zealand. I thoroughly enjoy my College work and have been welcomed and listened to by all members of the Board, Council, staff and committees. There are great opportunities for learning and collegiality. I would recommend all Diplomates increase their engagement with the College and put their hand up to become an examiner or contribute to committee work.

How do you wind down?
Winding down is easy for me now without pressing work and on-call commitments. I love reading and getting engrossed in a book has always helped me relax in the evenings. Exercise and sport are great ways to unwind. I’m not really into gyms but I love exercise classes and tennis where you can interact socially while burning calories.
What do you do outside of work?
Reading, tennis, gardening and cooking are my main activities outside of work. I have always tried to grow fresh food where possible and love using my own ingredients when cooking. We also have hens and bees so have a good supply of eggs and honey.

Dr Judith Gardiner.jpg    With one of her Gove babies before discharge    With her grand-daughter, Lillian

Somewhere in Portugal         With Judith's husband and three daughters        Performing a caesarean section in Gove



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