Rural GP Dr Hanna Nies... Following Her Dream

By , Melinda McCarthy published on 13/11/2023 Ochre Recruitment,

The highlight of Ochre Recruitment's loyalty program is the Golden Gratitude Award, where each quarter our consultants nominate one outstanding Ochre GP. Not only do we celebrate and reward their remarkable achievements, but we also donate $1,000 to a deserving individual or charity of their choice.

This quarter we are delighted to celebrate Dr. Hanna Nies, a well-travelled Rural Generalist with a specialty interest in Obstetrics, who is currently working in Carnarvon, a coastal town in Western Australia. She is donating her $1,000 to Mimi Fong, Project Co-ordinator, at the Polly Farmer Foundation Follow The Dream program.

Hanna shared her story with us last week.

Tell us a little bit about your career – where did you grow up, where did you study and what inspired you to become a Rural Generalist?

I grew up in Germany and went to Medical School in Bonn, a very traditional university with the impressive sounding name “Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universitaet”. Good, huh? I did enjoy my time there enormously, city and uni are forever dear to me in my heart.

In our General Medicine course (“Allgemein-Medizin”), we were fortunate to benefit from a great teacher, a country GP himself, who inspired me greatly. When it came to my finals, I was delighted to see he was to be one of my examiners. Unfortunately, I very nearly failed the whole thing as I could not for the life of me come up with a simple lab test to diagnose hyperaldosteronism without much ado; I have never forgotten the answer since... Check the potassium!!! He couldn’t believe my limitless stupidity. He is most likely no longer with us: I have often over the years thought of him, especially since embarking on the RG career in rural and remote Australia; I should have looked him up one day and told him my story. Or maybe better not, he would have personally taken it upon himself to warn the College of me!

I also attended many teaching seminars during med school, and by far the most appealing one was actually meant for GPs, about applying plaster casts and stitching banana skins together. That sealed it for me and I was set to go.

You chose to specialize in Obstetrics… a specialty that I imagine has many challenging moments…. Amazing highs and sad lows… what do you love most about this specialty interest?

The greatest joys and the greatest sorrows or worries are the closest of bedfellows here. The older I get the more I feel confident in addressing families where things haven’t gone well and there are no words. Dealing with silence in conversation is a very important skill that doesn’t come from books.

And every time a healthy baby is born I enjoy the event very much; often I’m far more excited than the by now totally exhausted parents

For the last few years, you’re been for the most part working in WA…. Derby, Kununurra and Carnarvon, and more recently WNSW. What are the striking similarities or differences working in these different regions?

We might look different in the face or skin, have different jobs and incomes (or lack thereof), have read different books, vote for different politicians and so on. But when it comes to “the girls’ bits”, babies and life’s greatest events, we’re all the same.

 Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed the closure and downgrading of rural maternity units all too frequently. How does this impact the work you do for rural and regional communities?

It makes me feel even stronger to want to go on a bit longer, train a bit better, and serve a bit more keenly.

 And what is it about WA that keeps calling you back?

Nature in general, and my superb medical and nursing team in Carnarvon in particular. The greetings and lovely welcome I get when I come back for another stint warms my heart. ED staff’s faces light up when I drag myself in from the airport, and people remember my name with a huge smile, I hug my colleagues and I’m home again.

What other locum locations are on your bucket list and why?

One day I want to explore Tasmania a bit more, also Norfolk Island and the Whitsundays. And what better way to do that than with medical “passport” that got me everywhere I wanted to go so far?

What advice would you give to medical students contemplating a general practice or generalist pathway over a medical specialization. How would you encourage them to consider the generalist pathway?

It’s the best thing I ever did, you get to do everything, be forever flexible, change direction, try something new, it’s all in one day’s work at your fingertips, meet armfuls of interesting people, and feel wanted wherever you go. And as female GPO you’re practically gold dust, only topped I think by psychiatry, something I always thought way too hard. Never thought one day I would be delivering Mental Health care frequently in ED, of course heavily supported by ETS (Emergency Telemedicine Service), my lifesavers any day of the week.

You’ve nominated Mimi Fong, Project Co-ordinater of the Polly Farmer Foundation Follow The Dream program to receive the $1,000 donation. The donation will be used to support aspirant Indigenous youth to stay in school. Hanna, I believe you have volunteered as a tutor for the afterschool tuition centre at Carnarvon Community Centre. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I met Mimi through my friend Kees Bakker, a fellow Dutch and local GP, on one of his frequent BBQ invites, immensely entertaining and always well attended by the town’s medical fraternity who is small in number but dedicated. Mimi is his partner and I admire her greatly, working in a most difficult environment and tirelessly advocating for her charges. She told me about her work with the Polly Farmer Foundation Follow The Dream Program and I was immediately interested. She offered me to come along and see for myself, and in no time I found myself in the thick of things, chopping veggies for lunch, serving tea, drying dishes and helping a Yr 11 girl with her biology homework (which I found quite taxing, actually!)

Fortunately, she was quite switched on and my “specialist input” was not really required, phew!!! The keen spirit of all the young people there impressed me greatly, and Mimi floating through it all totally unfazed and dispensing kitchen table wisdom and encouragement constantly to everyone in her path was just a wonderful sight to behold. Boys were equally involved in all the food preparation tasks and I think it’s fair to say that most of the youngsters very rarely have been involved in any activities like these before they came to school. Mimi’s influence on her charges’ whole life can simply not be underestimated.

I am so grateful for the work she does, and when your offer came along I remembered her telling me how she has to re-apply in her eternal fight for funding every year (i.e completing long-winded application forms again) for what is such a worthwhile cause; she’ll put every penny of your most kind donation to the best of use, present and future!

It does make me wonder though if some of the millions coming from Canberra could maybe better be redirected to Mimi and her kidsthey’ll look after the money a whole sight more responsibly than many of the local agencies whose multiple and repeated failures to meet the people’s needs I encounter frequently.

Thank you very very much for your generosity, it’s highly appreciated!

And thank you Hanna for your time, your candor and the amazing work you do for our rural and remote communities. 

If you would like to learn more about how the Polly Farmer Foundation provides lifelong education opportunities to Aboriginal children and make a donation, please click here

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