Meet the Fellows – Dr Kate Reid-Milligan

FRACGP class of ’16

A love for all things medical drove Dr Kate Reid-Milligan to embark on her journey to become a GP.

From surgery to paediatrics, Kate found she enjoyed every specialty during medical school and her junior doctor years, which led her to join the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

“I loved all of the specialities I was exposed to in medical school – I found it hard to choose a favourite,” Kate said.

“In my final years I had some really positive experiences in general practice, both in metro and rural based placements.

“It was pretty clear to me by the time I started work in the hospital that I wanted to do GP and as I progressed through my intern and resident years I became more confident of this.”

The variety of the job and not knowing what to expect each day, such as diagnosing an acoustic neuroma in a young man who presented with facial pain, maintained Kate’s passion for the profession.

“An acoustic neuroma is a rare type of benign tumour that grows in the canal connecting the brain to the inner ear with an annual incidence of one in 100,000 people,” Kate said.

“Without treatment, important nerves, including the hearing, facial and balance nerves, can be affected and the growing tumour may eventually encroach on the brain.

“Because he was diagnosed early, he underwent surgery in a timely manner and has recovered well.

“I love the mix of patients and the types of problems I’ll see in any given day.”

Although now based in the North metro region, Kate has fond memories of the time she spent on a rural GP placement in Albany during medical school.

“The doctors just seemed to have such a great life,” she said.

“They were doing procedural work in the hospital such as obstetrics and anaesthetics as well as working in GP. They also seemed to have such a wonderful work-life balance, pursuing their interests such as sailing on the weekends.

“My experience studying there really helped me make the decision to choose GP as my speciality.”

Since achieving Fellowship with the RACGP in 2016, Kate has worked in several practices and has been based at Trigg Health Care Centre for the past three years.

Kate is passionate about providing safe, quality care to patients in the community and also enjoys her work as a Regional Medical Educator. She joined WAGPET 4 years ago and through this role mentors and supports junior doctors as they embark on their journeys to become GPs.

“Mentorship is a huge part of my role,” Kate said.

“Ensuring the registrar is the right fit for their practice and that they are well supported by their supervisor and practice staff so that they too can provide safe, quality care to patients. I really enjoy this part of my work.”

Kate has a particular interest in women’s health and paediatrics.

“I know the importance of receiving quality medical care, feeling listened to, and being able to trust your GP,” she said.

“I particularly like seeing women throughout their pregnancies, helping them through those early years with young children, sharing my professional and sometimes some personal parenting experience.

“Helping women and children make the most of their health is one of the most satisfying aspects of my GP work.”

Kate believes being a mum makes it easier to build trust with her patients.

“My patients will often say, ‘I know you get it, you’re a mum – you’ve got a young child too,” she said.

“It gives you that extra little bit of knowledge and experience to help you understand where your patients are coming from and the challenges of being a parent.”

Throughout COVID-19, Kate saw the impact isolation and uncertainty had on people with and without pre-existing mental health issues.

Parents were challenged by the rigours of home schooling, not being able to take kids to the local playground or for a play date and having to entertain them at home.

“A lot of parents do rely on community and friends to support one another,” Kate said.

“With mental health issues, a lot of the treatments are supportive talking therapy.”

This was where the role of GPs helped, by providing support and general advice and also by referring to local psychologists for further intervention and therapy.

“My patients often look to me for advice and support, and this probably hasn’t changed all that much as a result of COVID,” Kate said.

“I do, however, hear from some colleagues that they are doing more psychology referrals on mental health plans than ever before.

“The GP plays an important role in supporting the patient through this process.”

Kate couldn’t pick one specific day she regarded as her best as a GP; instead, she said it was the days where she saw women with new pregnancies, post-natal check-ups, and babies for their six-week check-ups.

“They’re the most exciting parts of GP because health isn’t just about treating disease, it’s about prevention of disease, promoting health and educating patients,” she said.

“Pregnancies are exciting and natural processes in life, and we as GPs have this really important role in educating and supporting patients through that journey.

“It’s really cool when you make an interesting diagnosis or when a patient improves on the treatment you provide, but the mums and bubs are the patients that really make me tick.”

As an educator, Kate wasn’t sure if practise made her a better educator or whether education made her a better practitioner.

“Either way, I really enjoy educating people and helping them get the best out of their health,” she said.

“A lot of people underestimate how important education is in medicine.”

She said it helped reduce anxiety within her patients.

“When a parent asks you how high a temperature has to be in order to get worried, it helps by educating them that it’s more about how the child is looking and interacting, rather than the number itself,” Kate said.

“It’s nice seeing that parent walk away knowing they’ve got that little bit more knowledge and understanding, and that they’re better equipped for next time.

“It’s about the big picture; not just dealing with that problem in the moment, but empowering people for the future as well.”

Kate’s advice to future GPs was that if they love people then GP is bound to be a good fit.

“GP is all about people and continuity of care. We form relationships over a long period of time, treat illness and promote wellness. I guess you could say we help our patients through the ups and downs of life,” she said.

“If you’re the type of person that likes a little bit of everything, variety from day to day and being challenged, then GP is a good fit.”