From would-be farmer to O&G specialist

As a child, John Keogh always thought he would be a farmer when he grew up.


The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

12 January 2024

As a child, John Keogh always thought he would be a farmer when he grew up.

“My father was always going to come and sit under a tree on my farm and watch me work,” John recalls. “That was the plan.”

Well, plans changed for John and a career in medicine beckoned.

“I was originally planning to go into general practice and thought I would be a rural general practitioner in a country town. As I started training in general practice, I realised that was a different and special skill set – you need a very broad knowledge over a wide range of things,” John says.

“I knew as a rural GP I’d need to be able to deliver a baby, so I did a Diploma of O&G. lt was eye-opening – I absolutely loved it.”

John then moved to the UK to work as an obstetric registrar for a year. “By the time I was a third of the way through that year I knew that I wanted to specialise and that a career in O&G was for me.”

Since then, he has worked in Perth and Sydney and internationally in England, Ireland, and for a short time in Tanzania.

He is now based in Northern Sydney, where he has been for the last 25 years.

“I feel it is a great privilege for me to be involved in a time that is so completely real and so deeply personal to women and their families as the birth of their child,” John says about why he loves his job. “And now 36 years later it still makes my heart race!”

My Sister’s Baby

Grateful for being able to work in a system with resources, and with a team of dedicated and highly skilled midwifery and medical colleagues, John is also aware of the very different reality facing many women in lower- and middle-income countries – no midwife, no doctor, no pain relief or epidural, no Caesarean, no help if something goes wrong.

“It’s a tragedy that more than 300,000 women, and many, many more babies, die every year in childbirth, mostly because they birth without trained support. That’s like every pregnant Australian woman dying every year, year after year.”

That is how ‘My Sister’s Baby’ came about. “I wanted to somehow make a difference to the lived experience of women round childbirth in resource-poor settings. But I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. The aim is to help raise funds to support groups who are already doing this work on the ground, but whose capacity is limited by resources. Groups like the Barbara May Foundation, run by Australian Obstetrician and fistula specialist Dr Andrew Browning.

“The idea is to invite women and families who are having a baby here to reach out to another woman somewhere else in the world, who is going through the same journey as they are but under very different circumstances, and say to them ‘My sister, I am going to make your journey a safe one’.

“I’m hoping that other obstetricians and midwives working in Australia might join with me and ask women in their practices to join in making safe birthing a real option, and in so doing, make a real difference to families just like theirs.”

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