Meet the fellows: Dr Kylie Sterry

FRACGP & FACRRM, class of ‘09

Dr Kylie Sterry’s childhood obsession with A Country Practice sparked a life-long passion for rural general practice.

Growing up in Newman, WA, Kylie watched the show daily, enamoured by the ‘cradle-to-the-grave’ medicine practised in the show and the synergy between the public services and the community they served in the fictional rural town of Wandin Valley.

“In the show, you had the police, teachers, vets, doctors, and nurses all working together in the community, and they dealt with all the cases from the major accidents to the coughs and colds and even delivered babies,” Kylie said.

“I really wanted to be one of those kinds of doctors; a jack-of-all-trades that does everything but is really part of the community and that bigger picture.”

Kylie also had an interest in obstetrics and women’s health, and completed her DRANZCOG Advanced, Master of Women’s Health and Master of Reproductive Medicine to provide more support to her community.

“Delivering babies and looking after pregnant women is just a part of what a country doctor should do,” Kylie said.

“Once I started doing it, I was just so in awe, and still am, at the growth of a new human being.

“Patients trust me to be there at such an important time in their life and I feel privileged to take on that responsibility and role.

“Babies are really cute, and it’s so cool to see a new baby come to be; to see them grow and develop a personality.”

Upon Fellowing with the RACGP and ACRRM, Kylie began practising in Kalgoorlie, and is now the Practice Principal at Plaza Medical.

She said being able to provide care to her patients over the course of many years as a rural GP allowed her to become the jack-of-all-trades doctor she aspired to be.

“There’s more opportunity for continuity of care here. You really do become someone’s doctor,” Kylie said.

“It allows you to build a relationship that’s second to none. I can look after a person not only in pregnancy, but before and afterward,” Kylie said.

“If they get depressed or if their kids get sick, I can manage that. I like being a holistic doctor who can look after the whole family.”

The small-town dynamic has also helped Kylie support her community more effectively.

“I bump into my patients at the shops, and my kids go to school with kids I’ve delivered,” Kylie said.

“My patients see me as a mum and as a person, and that helps our relationship because I’m not just the doctor they see when they’re sick. I build relationships with them over time.”

Kylie said that those relationships helped her better understand when her patients weren’t well.

“Sometimes when a patient walks in I can tell that something’s not right because I know them,” Kylie said.

“You just don’t get that if you don’t have a relationship with them.

“It’s definitely a more cost-effective healthcare system when a patient has a regular GP. Knowing the patients and understanding them and their families means I investigate less and intervene less. Time and care can sometimes be the best medicine of all.”

Although building close relationships can be hard when things went wrong, Kylie appreciated how it also allowed her to be part of the healing process.

“When you lose a patient, it’s not easy; you see them as a person because you often know their family quite intimately,” Kylie said.

“But this allows you to grieve with them and you get to see the family afterwards and heal with them.”

Being a rural GP also allowed her to follow the story beyond the adverse outcome.

“I’ve had some patients lose babies and that’s heartbreaking, but to be involved in the successful pregnancy afterwards, and to see them still become parents and take that baby home, there’s nothing better than that,” she said.

“One of my fondest memories is when I delivered the twins of a lady who had previously lost four pregnancies over the years with me.

“To see her become a mum to two beautiful healthy twins was a monumental occasion.”

Kylie’s advice to future GPs was to cherish the bonds built with their patients and to realise their position not just as a doctor, but also as a teacher.

“I often tell my registrars that the word ‘doctor’ is derived from the Latin verb “docere” meaning ‘to teach’,” Kylie said.

“That’s part of our job. We teach patients, we teach medical students, and we teach other doctors.”

Kylie said it was her goal to get young doctors passionate about general practice again.

“A few years ago, I got quite despondent about the future of general practice in Australia,” Kylie said.

“But I recently realised that the way to fix rural general practice is to inspire the new generation of doctors with what it’s like to be someone’s GP.

“Nothing beats what it’s like to become someone’s GP: to join patients on their journey to recovery and to support them through all of their medical problems.

“Ultimately, that’s what country communities need: doctors who are a jack-of-all-trades giving that community holistic, continuity of care.”