“You literally saved my life”.
These were the five simple, yet powerful words from a patient to Dr Sarah Mills during her first term as a GP Registrar which convinced her she’d made the right career choice to become a GP.
For Sarah, who has come full circle by finishing her GP training at Palmerston GP Super Clinic where she first started in 2020, it was also a significant moment in her life.
“I had a patient in my first term of general practice when I was at the Super Clinic who had just come in for a urinary tract infection,” she explained.
“As we delved deeper, there was actually a lot going on, and I discovered this patient had lost both her parents at the age that she was now to heart attacks.
“When we went into some blood tests, it looked like she was heading in the same direction, and as a result we were able to get a new diagnosis of diabetes well under control.
“We also helped her to quit smoking, and to get her exercising and lose weight, which started to help her manage her cholesterol better.
“Within about four or five months, she had significantly reduced her risk of having a heart attack.
“She was a grey nomad and when she eventually left to keep travelling, she gave me this beautiful card that said: ‘You literally saved my life’.
“It's being able to connect with people and have a real impact on their lives and help them to change it. That's what I love about general practice.”
Sarah is a Territorian at heart, growing up in Alice Springs until the age of 20 before returning to the NT after completing her Medical Science and Nursing degrees in Adelaide.
She worked as an aged care nurse while studying Medicine, and at that stage did not think she wanted to become a GP.
However, Sarah’s journey was about to take a completely different path.
“Starting out as a medical student, this is not where I wanted to end up,” she said. “I thought it was going to be too mundane – but it is far from that.
“The uniqueness of medicine in the NT has made training and work exciting and challenging.
“Every day is different, and every patient brings a new perspective to how I see medicine.”
Sarah says a placement with Top End Health Service (TEHS) in the Tiwi Islands has been the highlight of her GP training journey to date.
“I will always cherish working in Milikapiti in the Tiwi Islands through my post with TEHS,” she said.
“They’ve got a couple of really amazing Aboriginal Health Workers out there, who are also Elders and pillars of the community.
“They’re third generation health workers, so the community has this amazing relationship with the clinic, and there's a lot of trust there.
“I was really welcomed into the community, and by my second or third day, I was driving into the community and people were waving at me as I went past.
“Even when I was just walking out to the shops, people were calling out ‘hey Doctor’. It was beautiful.
“I will always hold a special place in my heart there for the people, the place, and the work.”
Sarah, who has also undertaken hospital training at the Royal Darwin and Palmerston Hospitals, is grateful for the support of NTGPE during her training.
“I am not very academic, and I find the breadth of GP knowledge sometimes overwhelming,” she said.
“However, I’ve had great support from NTGPE to make it more manageable and have learnt ways to make it less of a challenge.
“The support has been over and above what I expected. My training team check in with me regularly and if they don’t have the answers, they put me in touch with the people who do.
“They have supported me through academic as well as personal hurdles, and I am very grateful for their help.”
So, where does Sarah see herself in five years’ time?
“Hopefully I’ll still be in the NT, working as a GP and teaching,” she said.
“I love teaching. I'm mainly supervising students at the moment, but I was doing more dedicated teaching blocks last year.
“So, I’m definitely keen to stay around the Territory and keep doing that.
“NT medicine is so varied and unique. Being able to stay close to family in the NT and their support has made the journey a lot smoother.
“Overall, I really enjoy practising medicine looking at the person as a whole. I like to be able to connect with people and help people to make positive changes in their lives.”
And it is a certain grey nomad travelling around Australia with a new, healthy outlook on life who is a living testament to Sarah’s commitment to making those positive changes for her patients.