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IWD – ‘You can succeed based on your own terms’


Michelle Wisbey


5/03/2024 4:29:34 PM

RACGP leaders, past and present, will speak about the need for change as part of the college’s International Women’s Day Victoria event.

Nicole Higgins, Lara Roeske, and Karen Price.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins, Chair Dr Lara Roeske, and past President Adjunct Professor Karen Price.

Despite being a new mum, Dr Nicole Higgins still had work to do, meetings to attend, and boards to sit on.
 
On one of these days, she had to bring her baby into the office – a simple action that inadvertently demonstrated the lack of females in Australian leadership positions at that time.
 
‘When I had my kids, I didn’t know what to expect and so I went to work and I started breastfeeding through a board meeting,’ Dr Higgins told newsGP.
 
‘This was met with looks of shock, of surprise, but I didn’t stop, I just kept going.
 
‘I had a baby that needed to be fed, and I had work that needed to be done.’
 
Now the RACGP President, Dr Higgins is part of a leadership team surrounded by women, a stark contrast to what she has seen before.
 
This International Women’s Day, she will speak alongside RACGP Chair Dr Lara Roeske and former President Adjunct Professor Karen Price on a Victorian panel celebrating the achievements of women.
 
‘RACGP has strong female leadership, which will support our female GPs in training, our female practice owners, and our female doctors,’ Dr Higgins said.
 
‘I have often been the only female in the room, whether that be in a board room, at a meeting, or in a place where people are making decisions.
 
‘That has meant that I’ve had to deal with bias, prejudice, and overcoming imposter syndrome because you have to work harder to prove yourself.’
 
As the dynamics of general practice progress, there are now more female GPs and GPs in training than males, at about 58% of the total.
 
However, consultations play out very differently between different genders.
 
On average, female GPs spend significantly longer with their patients, ‘carry a heavier load of psychological presentations’, and report a much greater incidence of pregnancy and family planning consults.
 
As a GP and practice owner herself, Dr Higgins knows these mounting pressures all too well.
 
Her advice to her colleagues, especially those still forging their own path in the medical field is simple, but powerful.
 
‘Value your work. No one can take your brain, your knowledge, your experiences away from you,’ Dr Higgins said.
 
‘Seek the support of mentors and the people around you to enable you to do whatever it is that you wish to.’
 
It is a sentiment shared by Dr Roeske.
 
She said the RACGP’s female leadership reflects how far society has progressed, despite the large amount of work that still remains.
 
‘We need to be crystal clear about understanding precisely where we are here in Australia, and we need to call out where we’re doing work and where we haven’t achieved,’ Dr Loeske said.
 
‘It’s a time where we can come together as colleagues, peers, friends, and that togetherness with other women is extraordinarily nurturing.
 
‘We spend lots of time nurturing others and I think it’s a time where we can nurture each other and be inspired into action, inspired into conversation.
 
‘It’s really important that women remain true to themselves.’
 
Dr Roeske said women are living in a world of ‘competing demands’ – raised in a society to put others before themselves.
 
‘We need to give women permission to actually take care of their own needs,’ she said.
 
‘When you’re a professional woman, you need to actually commit to growth and development as a professional and you need to stamp time out, to create a boundary around it and make that time for yourself.
 
‘Other women are best placed to provide you with pragmatic information that’s going to help you achieve what you want to, and to overcome seemingly extraordinary barriers.’
 
Together, Dr Roeske said women need to keep pushing boundaries, breaking these barriers, and building a world where every woman and girl can thrive.
 
Her advice to young GPs is to take their time.
 
‘You have time, and you can succeed based on your own terms, and what that looks like to you,’ Dr Roeske said.
 
‘We can get very preoccupied with everything else, and everyone else, and we are not focused on our own needs.
 
‘We stand on the shoulders of women that have gone before us.’
 
For the RACGP’s immediate past President Adjunct Professor Price, there is a lot that needs to change if women are to become truly equal in the workplace.
 
At the top of her list is a ‘revolution in childcare’, which she said will drive change in the unpaid caring economy so care work and domestic labour is shared more equally at home. 
 
Her calls come at a time when females still spend 4.5 hours every day doing unpaid work activities, compared to just 3.2 hours done by males.
 
This includes domestic duties such as housework, cooking, and shopping, as well as child care, adult care, and volunteering.
 
‘The ethics of care, a well-documented discipline, needs to be embedded into our economy and not shouldered by the altruism and gendered ways of working, which become poverty traps for many women,’ Adjunct Professor Price said.
 
‘Whilst childcare drives change for medical women it also drives significant social change for women without tertiary degrees and helps to build financial security for often vulnerable women.’
 
She said many women feel inspired to practise medicine, but can often drift away into parallel careers, leading to a need to stem this loss of highly qualified doctors.
 
‘Politicians need to be more health literate on health system functions and the expertise of generalists in general practice – that would likely yield changes that would inspire a whole cohort of capable academic women into general practice,’ she said.
 
As Adjunct Professor Price looks ahead to International Women’s Day, and the future more broadly, she wants her peers to remember one thing – ‘live wildly and proudly a woman’.
 
‘Remember to include looking after yourself in your circle of care because then you are as unstoppable as any force of nature,’ she said.
 
‘Remember the good people around you and don’t waste your time on those who don’t support you. 
 
‘Be the unique and creative person you were meant to be, whatever you do.’
 
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #CountHerIn, with RACGP events being held across Australia and online on 7 and 8 March.
 
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