Graphic: Dr. McConnell in the 2000s on an aircraft
After 27 years’ service at the RFDS WA, Dr Christine McConnell has hung up her stethoscope.
After 27 years’ service at the RFDS WA, Dr Christine McConnell has hung up her stethoscope. During her time with the RFDS, Christine has cared for thousands of patients, run hundreds of primary health clinics, taken around 20,000 telehealth calls, and worked as a GP and in the Emergency Department at Meekatharra Hospital. She has flown all over WA many times, and often made the long trip by road from Meekatharra to Perth during her off-duty time to see a movie or to enjoy the casino.
Christine started with the RFDS WA in 1995 when she relocated from Victoria to Meekatharra, a remote town in the Mid West.
“I jumped straight into the job. Would you believe within the first fifteen minutes of my very first day, I delivered a baby!” Christine said.
Prior to joining the Flying Doctor, Christine worked in general practice in rural Victoria.
“Working as a GP was valuable but I started to want something different and then I saw the ad for the RFDS,” Christine said.
Christine was raised on navy bases and in rural Victoria. Early on, she decided medicine would be a good fit for her and began her studies at the University of Melbourne when she was just sixteen years old. She got her first taste of aeromedicine while working as an intern at Swan Hill Hospital in Victoria.
“As an intern, I took part in an aeromedical evacuation. The flight was extremely bumpy, and I remember feeling nauseous and airsick. When we landed at Melbourne, I hitched a ride with a mail truck to get back to Swan Hill Hospital. Little did I know then that I would spend most of my career in the field of aeromedicine,” Christine said.
Working and living in a small, isolated town like Meekatharra has its own challenges and requires a particular strength of character and resilience. Christine unknowingly prepared for such challenges when she was stationed in the Antarctic in the early 1990s.
“I worked on Macquarie Island for a year in 1990. The work was interesting, and the scenery was stunning, but it wasn’t an extreme experience, the climate was similar to that of Tasmania. I went on to have one year at Mawson Station which gave me the full Antarctic experience and prepared me for life in Meekatharra.
“I’m a relatively private person, and I found that Meekatharra suited me. I enjoyed the variety and mix of my work in retrievals, as a GP and at Meekatharra Hospital. It gave me everything I wanted. I’ve appreciated all the wonderful sunsets and sunrises I’ve seen out here. I socialised with the crew, and every year I took a long holiday and went cruising.
“I’ve really enjoyed being in Meekatharra and my work with the RFDS. Meeka is a very friendly base and everyone is supported. I’ve had great collegiate relationships with the nurses and pilots and over the years, it’s been meaningful to see medical students I’ve worked with turn into rural doctors,” said Christine.
In 2010, Christine won the Rural Health Doctors’ Service Award for Remote and Clinically Challenging Medicine in recognition of her years of service. Christine has seen many changes in technology since she began in medicine.
When I first started with the RFDS, we worked with basic equipment. Our aircraft now seem to house mini-ICUs. We can do an incredible amount for our patients and it’s very satisfying to be able to offer a high level of care to our patients.
Reflecting on her time at the RFDS, Christine said she has always had a strong sense of pride to be working as a flying doctor.
“The RFDS is a great organisation that does great things for the people of the outback. In the bush, you don’t say ‘doctor’, you say ‘RFDS’ and that gives me a great sense of pride,” said Christine.
Christine’s advice to young doctors who are thinking of joining the service is to just do it! Don’t be intimidated by the thought of being in a remote location. You’ll get lots of practise and lots of support,” said Christine.
Now Christine is looking forward to her well-deserved retirement. She’s going on a cruise to France with her mum. And she’s looking forward to painting in watercolours and getting fitter. And here at the Flying Doctor in WA, we’re wishing her all the very best.