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Herstory – Dr Sarah Coll

Dr Sarah Coll, Vice President AFMW

Meet Dr Sarah Coll

In this issue of Herstory, you all have the opportunity to meet Dr Sarah Coll – Vice President of AFMW, who is an orthopaedic surgeon practising in North Queensland and a mother of two children. Dr Coll has kindly shared her personal account of her journey with us.

Sarah’s Story

My Journey

My story begins in Perth – I am the child of two specialists – an anaesthetist and an endocrinologist. This was unusual for the time as my mother was one of the early medical students in WA and was also early to take on a specialty.

I had two younger brothers that I helped to rear while my parents worked alternating night shifts which taught me how to change a cloth nappy and early responsibility. I was never academic in school and was described to everyone’s distress as a ‘daydreamer’ but at University I hit my stride when my then boyfriend suggested I try studying – a fascinating process of doing homework and reading the extra material. This gave me the marks to get into Medical School – a wondrous place of interesting people, fabulous parties and at the end a job that was entertaining.

I decided that Perth was not where I wanted to do my early career work and moved to Queensland and quickly found myself an Orthopaedic Registrar. I then managed to fail my 1st Part exam twice before finally passing and being accepted onto the Queensland training programme (not welcome in Perth). I managed to stay under the radar to sit my exams (twice) before becoming a nervous Younger Fellow.

My colleague in Cairns offered me a job (thank goodness – I hadn’t applied anywhere because I was waiting to see what my fiancé was doing) and after becoming dis-engaged I suggested to my new boss that I was not keen to do joint replacements. The response at the time was ‘what else is there’ to which I replied there was a fascinating process of shoulder arthroscopy and I was pointed in the direction of the Public waiting list – and I remain in Cairns 17 years later!


My Mentors

I had a number of mentors, but I would have to say my mother was the most important.

She answered the phone when I would cry in the mornings trying to make myself go back to work to face my bully. She would get my car serviced, do a load of washing, stock the fridge every 6
or so weeks and obviously set a template of what a specialist should look like. While she falls slowly into anxiety and dementia she retains her razor sharp analysis of people and she would
always reassure me that my demons / bullies were not quite so scary as she often knew their past or secrets!


Three Things  I Learnt

1. Make a list – if in doubt, break an operation down into steps, break your week down into hours, break your projects into simple things to work out how to do. You will get there, it may not be fast and it may not be pretty but it doesn’t matter

2. Friends and lovers and kids make it more colourful – it is ok to take Ime away from work and not be the 100-hour a week surgeon, it’s ok to be part Ime and to stand up for the right to have a family in training.

3. Committee and political groups and advocacy organisations work for you, but they need volunteers and they allow you to step back from the one on one with the patient. Raise your hand for the jobs no one wants – they are often interesting and if not, they are good practice.


My Key Message To Others

Procrastination robs you of your life. You will never be guaranteed to ‘feel like’ doing something. You can’t wait for that perfect moment. Write down the steps and just do it now. Not tomorrow, not next week – they never arrive how you expected them to.


Thank you Dr Coll for your contribution to the AFMW Herstory collation. You will no doubt inspire others on their decision making path through medicine. A big ‘thank you’ to you, from all of AFMW for rolling up your sleeves and taking on this role on top of your busy life.


Remember that you can connect with our members through Sarah’s Linkedin also.


Magdalena Simonis
President, Australian Federation of Medical Women


An online E book of AFMW members and their mentors

About ‘Herstory’

The online AFMW Herstory E-Book, gives AFMW members the opportunity to contribute to the AFMW oral tapestry, by forming a compilation of  ‘our mentoring stories’, in which we  honour those who have changed our lives. Making this an online AFMW story book, encourages us each to consider contributing to building this over the years, into a collection of medical women’s key take home messages’, as we share the wisdom we each have gained from our own lived experiences.  The ‘golden nugget of wisdom’ that we would share with someone who asked us about what we have learned.

Add Your Story

If you would like to contribute your story, please download the Herstory template (Word doc), add your details and return the completed form to [email protected]. Please also submit a photo of yourself with this. It can be a ‘selfie’ taken with a good camera that you would be happy to have others see.


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