As American writer Clarence Budington Kelland once said: “My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it.”
Inspired by her father’s work with Aboriginal people in Broome in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, Dr Sandhli Sharma’s journey to becoming a GP started as a young child.
“Growing up, my father was working at Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO) in Broome, which aimed to provide health services to Aboriginal people in remote WA communities,” she explained.
“In social events, I tagged along with my father and found myself surrounded by GPs. I found them to be so open, humble, and compassionate, and I wanted to be able to provide the same level of care to people as they did.
“Because I was curious, during school holidays I used to do voluntary work experience at a dialysis centre, Aboriginal health centres shadowing GPs and Aboriginal health practitioners, social emotional wellbeing units, and pharmacies.
“This is when I realised what an important role GPs play working at ground level with patients.
“My first vision of myself as a doctor was as a GP, and I am very glad I maintained that vision throughout my medical school and training.”
Sandhli, who is undertaking her GP training with NTGPE, has already had placements in Darwin and Nhulunbuy, and is currently working at Danila Dilba Health Service, an Aboriginal health clinic in Darwin.
She speaks fondly of her time in Nhulunbuy, working at Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation and Gove District Hospital.
“I absolutely cherished working in Nhulunbuy,” she said. “Being able to work at the hospital and at Miwatj, I could provide continuity of care to my patients and experience diversity of people, language, culture, nature and medicine it has to offer.
“I gained so much experience with a wide variety of skill sets, even finding myself running the hospital one day and then doing home visits to palliative patients another day.
“It’s such a unique experience and you learn the importance of respecting patient’s wishes and cultural ceremonies especially towards the end of life.”
Sandhli fell in love with the NT after moving to the region five years ago, and is passionate about improving health outcomes for all Territorians.
“Through my experiences, I admire the NT’s culture, beaches, gorges and natural beauty,” she said.
“Like many others, I love grabbing laksa and fresh vegetables from weekend markets and supporting our local fresh produce.
“I also feel blessed to be in this position where I can provide support and medical care to patients where patients lack access to health resources and are in need of health workers.
“Darwin is now home to me. I feel because I now understand our region and available health services, I can better provide patients with the care they need and deserve.
“I can assess patients more holistically, and it is also about returning back to the community and the people who supported me throughout my journey.
“Northern Territory is the place to be. People here are so welcoming and allow you to enter their world, and put so much trust and faith into our health system despite the challenges it faces.
“It’s a unique feeling to be working in the NT.”
Sandhli believes there are many challenges to improving health in the NT, including the high levels of chronic diseases.
“Moreover, because of the outback stoic nature of the NT residents, people may not readily seek medical help,” she said.
“A key component of being a GP is developing a good doctor-patient relationship and maintaining continuity of care to help improve patient outcomes.”
Sandhli is thankful to NTGPE for the support the organisation has provided her throughout her training.
“NTGPE has been a main pillar in providing constant support, motivation and encouragement to myself as a registrar,” she said.
“Medical educators and training advisors have been great role models, and have always provided us with support, education and feedback in a timely manner.
“I don’t think this journey would have been this smooth without NTGPE’s constant support, especially during this COVID era.”
Sandhli, who practices yoga and mindfulness in her spare time to allow herself work-life balance, finds being a doctor an incredibly rewarding profession.
“The most rewarding part is knowing when patients are unwell or in pain, and I have gained the knowledge and trust to be able to relieve their sufferings,” she said.
“Patients put so much trust about their health in our hands which makes me want to be a responsible doctor to ensure I am providing the quality care to my patients that they deserve.
“Positive patients’ stories and their smiles bring happiness to my face, and makes me realise how blessed I am to be in this position and how I need to work on myself to maintain that trust and rapport.”
Sandhli sees her future career path as a GP working in various roles, including in Aboriginal health services, mainstream practice, and taking on a role as a Medical Educator to fulfil her love of learning and teaching.
“I would also like to do some casual shifts in Emergency Departments to maintain my skill set,” she added.
“It’s something I genuinely enjoy, and being a GP, it’s important to know how to handle any kind of emergencies that walk into clinic before you can transport them safely to hospital.”
And Sandhli may not be the last member of her family to pursue a medical career.
“It’s a constantly nurturing career and I am so grateful to the decisions I made and my family’s support,” she said.
“My family, especially my grandparents, are so proud of the journey I took, especially being the first doctor in my family, and how I could now encourage my brother to choose this career path as well with me.”
It seems fitting that Sandhli is now providing the same encouragement for her brother that her father gave her when she was a young, wide-eyed child simply wanting to help those in need.