International Women’s Day 2021: Choose To Challenge
Five minutes with Dr. Megan Belot, GP Anaesthetist and President-Elect of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA)
International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world today with over 30 countries even enjoying an official public holiday. Here at Ochre, we sat down with the inspiring Dr. Megan Belot, to explore the role of gender in her successful rural generalist career and reveal what she would #ChooseToChallenge in rural medicine this #IWD2021.
Thank you for talking to us on such a special day. Who or what inspired you to choose a career in medicine?
My parents were my main medical influences as a child. My mum’s a midwife and she used to come home with so many inspiring stories of all the babies she had delivered. And my dad had a motorbike accident when he was quite young and suffered from chronic leg ulcers as I was growing up. I used to watch him have his treatments and dressings every day. Both of these experiences had a huge impact on my decision to become a doctor and ultimately help people within our communities.
Take us through your career: how did you start and where was your first job?
I studied medicine at Monash University and my very first job was as an intern in Bairnsdale Hospital, a small rural hospital in far east Victoria. I completed two rural rotations in my intern year, gained a lot of exposure to GP Obstetricians and GP Anaesthetists, and was very impressed with how they handled all the big trauma work in the hospital. After a two-year residency at Royal Darwin Hospital, I did a placement with Katherine West Health Board and worked in numerous Indigenous communities such as Kalkarindji and Lajamanu which I loved.
I then locumed for two years back to Katherine Hospital and other places like Bathurst and Tamworth in New South Wales, and Mersey in Tasmania. I also did a few stints on Christmas Island in the detention centre which was really interesting work.
When I was then locuming in Echuca in Victoria, which is where I now work, I first met Dr. Sue Harrison, one of my career-long mentors. I had always toyed with the idea of becoming a GP Anaesthetist and she encouraged me to focus on this goal. There was a position in Bendigo and I was lucky to get on the GP Anaesthetist training the following year. I then completed my formal GP training where I did both ACRRM and RACGP.
My registry years were spent in Echuca and Broken Hill working for the Royal Flying Doctors and then coming back home to Echuca and Cohuna to complete my registrar training. I've been back here since 2016, had some time off for my maternity leave, and I'm now working part-time.
What did it mean to you to be appointed as the new President Elect of the RDAA? What are you hoping to achieve in the role?
It was very humbling and also an honour to be appointed, and I will move into the President’s role in October. I have been passionate about rural medicine ever since I was a child and I really want to effect some real change. I want to make sure small rural hospitals maintain their maternity services nationwide. We just can’t see any further closures of these essential services. I will also be focused on improving flexibility around the GP training pathway to make sure more rural GP registrars come through and the rural generalism program is a success nationwide. I really want to encourage other young doctors to choose the rural generalist specialty.
It would also be very rewarding to lobby the government successfully to increase the Medicare rebates for GP consults, at least rurally – these rebates have not gone up in over a decade. There’s a lot to do, but I’m really looking forward to continuing to work with the government and other stakeholders to achieve some of these outcomes.
As we celebrate International Women's Day today, have you ever felt like your gender has held you back in your medical career?
No one ever discouraged me from becoming a rural generalist because I’m a woman and wanted to have a family. More and more women are becoming rural generalists which I think is fantastic. There’s still more work to be done, however, in predominantly male specialties of the past such as surgery and orthopedics. I was actually discouraged from surgical training as a resident by some of my colleagues, due to the long training process. Thankfully, I never thought surgery was for me as I wanted to do a bit of everything.
There still needs to be more flexibility around training, working hours and having a family. The current training programs just don’t offer the flexibility they used to for doctors who want more work-life balance. For example, you used to be able to complete your GP training part-time over a considerable number of years. Today, however, it has to be completed within a specific timeframe which places new pressures and restrictions on doctors. Being able to undertake part-time training with part-time work and flexible working hours would help greatly improve gender balance within rural medicine.
I also feel parental leave isn’t long enough or equitable. In short, there’s not enough paternity leave compared to maternity leave – both parents should be able to take time off when a baby’s born. While I’d also love to see more maternity leave introduced, I think we need to be talking more as a society about parental leave as there are dads out there who would also like some time off too to focus on their family.
Have you benefitted from the support of strong female mentors over the years?
I've been supported by some really great and influential women along my medical career. Dr Sue Winter, who's now an ICU Anaesthetic Consultant in Melbourne, was a great mentor and gave me a lot of confidence to pursue critical care medicine. I'm not sure whether I would have had the courage to do Anaesthetics if she hadn’t taken a keen interest in my career.
And as I mentioned before, Dr Sue Harrison has been my mentor through my registrar training and when I was doing my GP Anaesthetic training as well. I still ring and ask her questions to this day. She's also mentored me through the Rural Doctors Association of Victoria as a previous President and I cannot thank her enough.
What advice would you give to female medical graduates embarking on their career?
Give every specialty a go if you are unsure of what you'd like to do and don't think that any specialty is off limits because you're a woman. Find your passion and make it happen. The workplace is changing and will eventually become a lot more flexible. Where there's a will, there's a way.
You must be proud that the RDAA continues to achieve gender balance on its board. Why do you think this is?
I’m proud that we’re seeing more and more successful women rural generalists. We all love our jobs and are hugely committed to the communities we represent. This is then reflected in our keen involvement at board level as we appreciate that this is where we can make a real difference.
The theme for this year’s International Women's Day is Choose To Challenge. What barriers do you think doctors need to break down when it comes to gender equality in rural medicine?
Workplace flexibility would be my number one gender equality issue to address. Covid has had a huge positive impact on breaking down pre-existing barriers to workplace flexibility but this momentum needs to be maintained. Men as much as women want to have more time at home so it’s a cross-gender issue.
We also need to review how female GPs are remunerated compared to their male colleagues. In general, female GPs spend a lot longer with their patients than male GPs. But Medicare only pays doctors for how many patients they see and the time spent with each one. In a nutshell, there’s a structural issue with the billing system whereby female doctors are not generally financially rewarded the same as if they saw patients for shorter consults like their male counterparts. Female GPs are renowned for their high-quality, in-depth consults and they need to be recognised for this and remunerated fairly.
Thank you so much for your time today Dr. Belot and we hope you enjoy International Women’s Day.
About Dr. Megan Belot
Dr. Megan Belot is a rural generalist doctor working in rural Victoria and is the President-Elect of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA). She will replace Dr. John Hall as RDAA President when his two-year term expires in October 2021.
Dr. Belot currently works as a GP Anaesthetist and Visiting Medical Officer at Echuca Hospital, a GP Anaesthetist at Cohuna Hospital, and a GP at the Northern District Community Health Medical clinic at Kerang.
She is currently also a Board Member with the Rural Doctors Association of Victoria (RDAV).