Meet the Fellows: Dr Anna Chaney

What began as a one-term GP-training placement has developed into a career-spanning passion for working with homeless people for MD Anna Chaney.

When the opportunity to complete a term with Homeless Healthcare arose through WAGPET during her training to become a GP, Anna’s eyes were opened to how fascinating and diverse general practice could be.

“I thought, ‘that sounds really interesting and different’, and I thought it would extend myself – and it did,” Anna said.

“Initially I tried that just as something a bit different and new, and before I knew it I was totally hooked.”

Anna chose Homeless Healthcare as her general practice placement, and when she Fellowed with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, she decided it was where she wanted to stay.

While working at Homeless Healthcare, Anna has seen first-hand the positive impacts developing a connection with homeless patients can have on their health.

“To get to know a patient is a long journey. You learn about them in little bits and pieces over time and that’s part of the beautiful nature of GP,” she said.

“With homeless work, you would expect there not to be a great continuity and follow-up, but I was surprised by how much you do get to know patients over the years, and how you get to be with them on that journey to recovery.

“You watch them change over time, and you see how the stability of the practice helps to support their recovery.”

Anna found that caring for the homeless had challenges mainstream GPs did not always encounter, mainly due to the complex multi-morbidity she saw in many of her patients.

“There’s usually a triad of mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems, and physical health problems,” she said.

“Often, they leave things a bit longer before they visit the doctor, meaning you will often see quite late diagnoses.

“You also see a lot of complex trauma and high rates of PTSD. The mental health burden is really high.”

Anna found that, as a GP, she could play a role in being a stable and ongoing support base for her patients to help ease some of the isolation and loneliness they felt.

“Often people who are experiencing homelessness don’t have a community of support around them and that might be why, when one or two things in their life go wrong, they fall into that situation of homelessness,” she said.

When Anna picked up a couple of shifts as a hotel quarantine doctor at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she saw similar issues with the impact isolation can have on mental and physical health.

Anna is currently the clinical lead for the hotel quarantine outreach service at the Royal Perth Hospital, where she and her team provide support around the mental health and medical issues that can arise during quarantine.

She was first attracted to the role because of its diverse nature.

“The quarantine situation, especially back when it first started, was fascinating; it was a dynamic and ever-changing situation,” Anna said.

“There were lots of unexpected hurdles, and it required a lot of collaboration between different agencies to figure out solutions to the different problems that arose.

“It’s been a super challenging and rewarding 12 months.”

Anna initially joined the AGPT program due to the prospect of being able to maintain a work life balance and start a family while completing her training, as well as the holistic nature of the field.

She implored junior doctors to choose general practice because of its near limitless opportunities.

“Before starting GP, I didn’t have an understanding of the breadth of what it could entail,” Anna said.

“There are so many different subspecialties and areas of interest and opportunities that I hadn’t previously considered.”

“One of my favourite things about working in hotel quarantine is that while I’m working with this team of 25 doctors, I see how rich and varied their careers are.

“I talk to other doctors about the other kinds of GP work that they do, and it’s fascinating to see how varied it can be.

“But it’s not just the varied work within GP. I know GPs who work as researchers, doing home visits, palliative care, aged care, in hospitals, after-hours work. It’s so varied how you can structure your career.

“I would just say ‘do it, it’s awesome!’”