A dream come true for new RFDS doctors
Since watching the Flying Doctors TV show as children, it had always been on their bucket list to work in the outback as doctors. Now a life-long goal has become reality for doctors Maria Capoluongo and Sundar Thavapalasundaram.
The couple from London have brought their two small children, Leo and Lara, to Broken Hill to work as doctors at the RFDS.
Maria tells how she ended up being the ‘tag team’ to her husband Sundar.
“Sundar saw an ad for a doctor at the Royal Flying Doctor Service and answered it. While he was talking with the RFDS he said, ‘by the way I have a wife who is a very good GP’, so now I’m working here too.”
In the future Maria, who worked as an anaesthetist and GP in the UK, hopes to be doing a mixture of GP consultations, clinic work and acute care with emergency retrievals. For now, she is enjoying being a GP in the RFDS Clive Bishop Medical Centre in Broken Hill.
“I can tell you a secret: we did always want to do this job,” Maria says. “We had an idea about the Flying Doctors for a long time so it’s been a bit of a dream. It just so happened that we picked up the skills needed in our careers that work well for the RFDS.
“The idea of going somewhere new, giving the kids another view of the world and working for the RFDS – it’s a fantastic opportunity.”
The family arrived at the end of August and Maria says the children, aged six and four, are now settled into school and childcare in Broken Hill.
“The love it. They think it’s the most amazing thing to be here in outback Australia,” Maria says.
“I have been a tiny bit homesick but they haven’t spoken about home at all. They are fascinated by the kangaroos and emus - we have emus in the backyard and there are kangaroos hopping down our road in front of our house!
“They are quite sociable children and the RFDS is fantastic for families,” Maria says. “Everyone has been so welcoming and kind, offering for the children sit with them while I’m in meetings. We would not get that in the UK where we were working.”
Maria’s husband Sundar, who is senior medical officer at Broken Hill, says they wanted to offer their kids a different view of the world while fulfilling a professional dream.
“I grew up watching the Flying Doctors on tele and I always thought that would be a wonderful job. It was on my bucket list, and I thought if an opportunity ever came up I would grab it,” Sundar says.
“I went to medical school in London, I was recruited to the British Army and served as a regimental medical officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve worked as a GP, surgeon and in emergency medicine.”
With a Masters in International Relations from the University of Cambridge, Sundar has also held senior leadership roles specifically in developing health policy, tackling health inequality, and improving performance and accountability within healthcare systems.
Sundar is now looking forward improving the health outcomes of people in the outback.
“I came to lead and support primary care development at Broken Hill, and I am ambitious to contribute my skills and experience to the Service to make a real difference,” he says.
“Aeromedical retrievals has been a big part of the Service, but now about 80 per cent is primary care. If you get that right, there will be less need for emergency evacuations. You would still need to help with accidents, but if you treat people who are presenting with illness earlier, they won’t need emergency care as much.
“There’s an opportunity to shape and improve healthcare across the South Eastern Section and to have a lasting impact to help people.”
Sundar says he particularly enjoys working with the people of the outback.
“The people and patients in the outback are resilient. They’re so hardy and there’s a real challenge to get to see a doctor, that they present with serious cases often when it’s late. I hope in the long term we can improve their situation.”