Meet the Fellows: Dr Kerrie Malarkey

FRACGP class of '19

Dr Kerrie Malarkey discovered GP was exactly where she wanted to be a year into her training.

The flexibility and range of options as a GP were always attractive to her, but what finally made her realise how much she loved the profession was the difference she could make in her community.

“I was in the second six months of GP training studying for my exams, so my knowledge was slowly building up, when I started developing a list of regular patients,” Kerrie said.

“I just remember getting this feeling that while I was busy at work, I was really getting into the groove of seeing common presentations that I actually knew how to manage.”

Kerrie started to feel like she was making a real difference in her community.

“I really felt that the patients would come back having improved clinically since I’d last seen them, I could feel the trust and rapport building,” she said.

“They were always so appreciative, and it’s easy just to brush it off, but seeing that I was making a difference in those second six months made me realise that this was exactly where I wanted to be.”

Kerrie was also appreciative of the opportunity to practise both adult and paediatric medicine.

“I love working with kids; I think that’s one of the things I enjoy most about general practice,” she said.

“During my hospital training I ended up at what was then Princess Margaret Hospital for around six months. I hadn’t done paediatrics before, and I really threw myself into the job.

“Having two kids of my own, I enjoy family medicine and seeing kids, so it was good to learn more.

“Before you go into GP, I think it’s valuable to spend some time in paediatrics if possible.”

However, if she went down the paediatrics path entirely, Kerrie would not have had the same opportunity to study adult medicine.

“I just find adult medicine is really interesting and I really enjoy the science behind it and getting to know people,” Kerrie said.

“I still wasn’t 100 per cent sure about general practice when I applied, but I was so glad I did because of the combination of not losing the adult medicine and still getting the paediatric patients.”

As a mother, Kerrie appreciated the flexibility that came with general practice, especially having had a daughter before starting GP training and a son soon after Fellowship with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in 2019.

She found that although the profession was much harder than she had originally thought it would be, it was hugely rewarding.

One of her favourite experiences was being able to tell that one of her patients, whom she had never met before, was pregnant during what was meant to be a check-up for fatigue.

“She was really tired, had a daughter, and she was just telling me that she was falling asleep during the day,” Kerrie said.

“After taking some further history and noting her age I said, ‘I think you might be pregnant’.

“She was shocked. She hadn’t even thought of that and just came in to maybe get her iron checked.”

When Kerrie got the woman to do a pregnancy test which came back positive, she said it was a lovely surprise; a moment Kerrie was overjoyed to be a part of.

“I could tell by her face that it was a shock, but a nice shock. It was lovely to be a part of that life changing moment.”

Although events like these are not a daily occurrence, Kerrie still enjoys the range of experiences during a regular day as a GP.

“For me a typical enjoyable day in GP is when you’ve had a mixture of patients,” Kerrie said.

“There are some where there’s nothing out of the ordinary, and you can use that time to connect with your patients, asking about their day, what’s happening in their lives. Then there are the kids who most commonly present with mild conditions.

“And finally, you have that case where there’s something new. Maybe you won’t know for sure what it is, and I really enjoy the science behind working it out and involving my peers for advice if necessary.”

For Kerrie, an advantage of practising family medicine was the ability to treat an entire family.

Parents often came in with their child knowing that there probably wasn’t anything seriously wrong but wanting that reassurance from their doctor, showing the trust they place in their GPs.

“During COVID, being such a tricky time for new mums with limited access to mothers groups and family support I found that I would see mothers regularly or via telehealth to discuss common newborn issues, maternal health and sometimes just provide support. Then I would see their kids for their six-week checks, and that’s what is ideal about family medicine,” Kerrie said.

“You would see the mum and you would see the baby, and you know if something is going on in the family.

“For example, is that the week Dad/partner is away on FIFO? Is mum just needing a bit of reassurance this week?

“You just don’t know that if you’re not seeing the whole family. It gives you a much bigger picture and context for how they’re feeling.”

As a mum, Kerrie enjoys the connection she has with mums in the same age demographic because she knows what they are feeling, grew up in similar eras as them, and they understand each other.

“It’s nice to have that connection,” Kerrie said.

“As I get older, I may lose that a little, but maybe they’ll travel with me through life’s stages.”

Kerrie’s advice to future GPs was to recognise that there is a lot to learn, but that’s okay.

“One of the challenges with GP is the uncertainty of many presentations, but the way that I have found to deal with this is to continue learning, build experience, and talk to and learn from your more experienced colleagues or those with special interests, whether that be at tea break, lunch, or just in the hallway after a consultation,” she said.

“There is so much learning you can do as a GP, try and set goals for your learning and this will help you to not overcommit and attempt to learn everything at once; that’s when you can become overwhelmed.

“Apart from that, talk to metro GPs, rural GPs, GPs who do things other than being in a practice, or spend a day in a practice.

“Once you’ve Fellowed, there are many varied and exciting opportunities at your fingertips.

“As a GP you see really interesting medicine, create great relationships, and you work alongside a passionate group of doctors who are always learning and getting better and really are experts in so many different areas.”