Juggling the safety of doctors at the front line of Covid-19 as well as supporting those who have been forced to close their practice provides the Australian Medical Association (AMA) with an interesting dynamic.
Fiona Davies, head of AMA NSW, says she never expected to have to help doctors out of work – they’re generally protected from significant economic downturns. What makes it most challenging is that shutdowns aren’t due to a lack of work but because there isn’t enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep staff and the public safe.
“We’re trying to balance one part of our membership with the safety and wellbeing of another part of our membership, which is quite challenging,” she says.
Davies has no medical background and she’s been known to get queasy on hospital visits, but it hasn’t stopped her leading the premier doctors’ association in NSW for more than 10 years.
In addition to more than 20 years representing doctors, she is also married to neurosurgeon Brian Owler, once AMA president and Labor contender for former Prime Minister John Howard’s seat of Bennelong.
To say the couple don’t like a quiet life is an understatement. Between them they are raising four children aged 10, 11, 12, and 16. With Owler’s youngest child having autism, the couple have a strong interest in understanding the impact and joy of disability as well as the lens it brings to your life to see things differently.
They are most passionate about medicine as an opportunity for prevention, not just as a treatment. Davies sees an opportunity for doctors to set people on a path to prevention, helping them keep illness at bay, with the aim of reducing their need to visit a doctor in the first place.
The main lesson Davies says she has learnt from having a partner in medicine is the extent to which they are small business owners and how much time that takes up in addition to their clinical load.
“My husband would work very long hours in surgery and then a couple more hours each night on running a small business and various follow-ups. That’s the big thing I hadn’t fully appreciated,” she says.
Owler has continued to run his business during the pandemic: some surgery has to continue, but on a significantly reduced basis.
As a family, every day they are living the coronavirus discussions – they talk about who they are talking to in government, what different governments are doing, and the latest statistics.
“The kids were quite fearful to begin with and worried about one of us getting sick,” says Davies.
This is to be expected with doctors front and centre of Covid-19 for the better part of the past three months.
According to Davies, if anything good has come from the pandemic it’s that people appreciate how effective our public health system is. She says if people have only interacted with their general practitioner in basic ways during their normal run of illness, then they probably don’t appreciate the value and strength of the Australian healthcare system.
“Health is often talked about in terms of costs, but it’s vital that people understand it’s an asset, not just a constant source of cost,” she says.
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