WORKING in medicine can often be a thankless job, which is why a little recognition for the skill and dedication it takes can mean the world to a practitioner.
Bathurst medical practitioners Cathy and Geof Marshall were recently acknowledged for their 35 years of service to the community at the 2017 NSW Rural Medical Service Awards.
“It’s really surprising, because when we first started our careers there wasn’t anything equivalent to that,” Geof said.
“There was no acknowledgement or recognition by any state-based agency of doctors who did what is a more difficult job than the average urban doctor has to do.”
The couple came to Bathurst in 1987 after seven years of practicing in Corowa, where they were always on call.
With three children, aged three, six and nine, the couple wanted to move somewhere less demanding.
“At that time, Bathurst was looking to upgrade the hospital to a base hospital and for that they needed a director of Emergency, which they’ve never had before, and so Geof applied for that job and got it,” Cathy said.
While he undertook that job, Cathy started to work at Busby Medical Practice as a general practitioner, and she has remained there to this day.
She admitted that the plan wasn’t to stay in Bathurst for a long time, but the positives of the region quickly changed their minds.
“We were using it as a stepping stone to get back to Sydney because that’s where all my family is, however Geof loved the job so much and I started working in a practice here that I loved and the kids could get a good education, so we stayed,” she said.
It’s a decision neither one regrets as their love for Bathurst has only grown.
They also acknowledge how rewarding working in medicine in a regional area is compared to the big cities.
“Working in any town of a finite size, be it regional or smaller, you build relationships with other doctors, with other peers, within that town and you certainly build relationships with specialist referral services because you do get to know them and meet them and socialise with them,” Geof said.
Cathy added, “You also, with your patients, you see them much more than city people would and your kids go to school with them and you become friends with them, so that in some ways can be a more difficult situation to deal with, but it can also be more rewarding.”
It can be hard for couples who both work in the same industry, but the Marshalls have never found a problem with them both being health professionals.
In fact, it has actually been an advantage.
“We found it good that we could support each other and debrief with each other,” Cathy said.
“That in a small town is a very good thing because you have to be very confidential. I think the support that we could give each other was very good and very helpful to us.”
Geof agreed, saying the support was invaluable.
“At least you can acknowledge how the other one is feeling and understand, particularly when it’s a very emotional case,” he said.
“When it has been very difficult for patients and their relatives, it does affect you, and to know that the person at home will understand how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way has been a great source of comfort.”
They do acknowledge, though, that it wasn’t always easy for their children as they grew up.
Cathy said they could tell that their parents’ work was more consuming than that of most and she joked that it’s probably why none of their children pursued medicine.
“None of our children are doctors,” she laughed. “They were all bright enough to be – it was too hard.”
Even though it can be a tough field, both Cathy and Geof have found working in medicine to be extremely rewarding.
“It is wonderful to have the privilege of people letting you into their lives and watching their families grow,” Cathy said.
“It gives you a lot of satisfaction to think that you may be helping people.”
Geof would definitely recommend it to students as a career.
“It gives you so much personal fulfillment in what you’re doing, and variety, interest; you really feel as if you’re genuinely improving people’s health and enjoyment of their lives,” he said.