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A General Practitioner’s Experience as an Australian Doctors International Volunteer

Dr Merrilee Frankish, a General Practitioner, is a full-time Senior Medical Officer in a small rural hospital outside Cairns.  She volunteered with Australian Doctors International (ADI) in Papua New Guinea for six months doing ‘integrated health patrols’ and has since returned twice to teach rural health workers at ADI in-service workshops.

She has kindly discussed her experiences with us.

What prompted you to join ADI?
I was looking to volunteer and had explored Medecins Sans Frontieres.  Then my practice manager brought home an ADI brochure from a conference.  That was the start of a beautiful friendship.

What have you found to be the biggest challenge as a doctor?
Not to be completely engulfed by my work – it is seductive.

If you were health minister for a day, name three things you would try to change.
If I were health minister for PNG, I would try to provide:
1.  Universal sanitation, i.e. running water, toilets that function and also good lighting for all.
2.  Plenty of fuel for each health centre to run generators and transport.
3.  Family planning to be free, acceptable and for all the churches to embrace it as a family’s right.

What is your biggest fear in life?
My biggest fear is being responsible for the preventable death of any person.

What are the most important things in your life?
My love for/from/of: family, friends, service and God.

Growing up I was always told:
Growing up I was always told to treat all people as human beings.

How do you unwind after a particularly gruelling day?
I would like to say I meditate, give my partner a hug, exercise and listen to soothing music.  However, it is so late when I get home that I prepare a meal or do the washing, or if things are really bad, I collapse.

What is your ideal holiday destination?
A place where there is beautiful nature and opportunities to walk.

Name three people in public life (living or dead) who have inspired you?
1.  Dr Paul Farmer, his book ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’ inspired me while in PNG.
2.  Dr Peter Macdonald, president of ADI, is the ultimate politician and lives much of his life in the service of our poorest neighbour, PNG; this goes for all the employees and volunteers of ADI.
3.  Quentin Bryce, our immediate past Governor General, is the ultimate – a dignified, selfless, hardworking, intelligent public figure who champions many causes in a measured, assertive manner. 

What are you currently reading and listening to?
I am reading ‘A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar’ by Suzanne Joinson and listening to Triple J. 

If I weren’t a doctor, I would be…
A teacher.

What are your hopes for the next decade – in medicine and generally?
That we can all treat each other with love, respect and kindness.  I trust that medicine in Australia will become more sensible and less focussed around risk management.  I hope that countries like PNG can receive the positive health outcomes that they deserve.  As a nation, I wish upon a star that we can reach out and help our neighbours in distress and that common decency will prevail. 

Anything else?
I am grateful for all the opportunities I have been given in my life, many people have helped me and continue to help me every day.

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