Success stories

Working in regional WA offers an enticing mix of career opportunities, a great lifestyle and the chance to become part of a real community. Read what some medical professionals have to say about their experiences living and working in country WA.

  • Kristy Cooper at magnificent Coral Bay
  • Dr Sam Bailey enjoys some downtime in the Midwest
  • Andrea visiting Antony Gormley's famous sculptures at Lake Ballard in WA's Goldfields

Goldfields welcomes new Director of Medical Services

Dr Kelvin Billinghurst and family now call the Goldfields home
Dr Kelvin Billinghurst and family now call the Goldfields home

A doctor who has spent his career in some of the world’s most challenging environments has been appointed to a key leadership role in Goldfields health care.

Dr Kelvin Billinghurst took up the role of WA Country Health Service – Goldfields Director of Medical Services at the end of January, following two years in a similar role at Katharine Hospital in the Northern Territory.

Prior to that, Dr Billinghurst spent almost 20 years in South Africa dealing with the challenges and rewards that come with treating patients who have HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other serious diseases tragically common in that part of the world.

Originally hailing from New Zealand, Dr Billinghurst completed his training in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in South Africa and from there took up a position at Shongwe Hospital, just north of the Swazi border. The hospital serviced around 300,000 Swazi people and around 50,000 refugees from Mozambique.

In addition to working at the front line treating patients, Dr Billinghurst also headed the obstetric ward, which typically saw some 300 births per month, and spent time overseeing almost 30 public health clinics. Shongwe was also where he met his wife, Louise.

Dr Billinghurst then became the Chief Medical Officer in Mpumalanga province in South Africa, where he gained extensive experience running programs for STD/AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis management, at the strategic level and in communities.

He has also worked in a range of senior consulting roles in Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

Dr Billinghurst, who has three children, said that he and Louise chose Kalgoorlie for its family-oriented lifestyle.

“There is an incredible amount to do here, especially for young children, and the environment is great,” Dr Billinghurst said.

“It’s not what you can’t do, it’s what you can realistically fit in with the limited amount of time you do have.

“Kalgoorlie is a good fit for young families. It’s nice not to have to spend significant lengths of time stuck in traffic.”

Dr Billinghurst said his priorities for his new role were around developing a sustainable local work force and continuous improvement of patient care.

“I am impressed by the dedication and expertise of our team here in the Goldfields,” Dr Billinghurst said.

“Being from a public health background I am also passionate about ensuring vulnerable communities have access to proper medical care.”

Distance no barrier to achievement for Coral Bay nurse

Kristy Cooper at magnificent Coral Bay
Kristy Cooper at magnificent Coral Bay.

Coral Bay Remote Area Nurse Kristy Cooper has added a Masters degree to her growing list of professional achievements.

After four years of hard work balancing her studies with her job at the nursing post in Coral Bay, Kristy was recently awarded her Masters in Remote Health Practice: Nurse Practitioner through Flinders University’s Centre for Remote Health. Her work was of such a high standard that she was named Outstanding Masters Graduate 2013.

In addition to the coursework component of her degree, Kristy undertook research into the experiences of remote area nurses across Australia.

The qualification clocks up another impressive achievement for 27 year-old Kristy. Since first graduating with Honours in Nursing from the University of Tasmania in 2005, she has been named WA Rural and Remote Registered Nurse 2012 and winner of the WA Nurse/Midwife of the Year 2012. 

Determined to make a difference in rural and remote communities, Kristy has been a sole Senior Registered Nurse/Clinical Coordinator at Coral Bay Nursing Post for four years. She works alternate weeks in tandem with another nurse.

Kristy said her new qualification would help her make an even greater contribution to the small coastal community she calls home.

“My expertise and insight will assist WACHS with strategic planning for the future,” Kristy said.

“When the post at Coral Bay expands to become a Nurse Practitioner post, it means I would already be able to take on the extra responsibility and offer continuity of care to my patients.”

Kristy said she loved living and working on Western Australia’s Ningaloo Coast.

“It’s more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a professional challenge and all the remote nurses are very good at networking and supporting each other,” Kristy said.

“When I’m not working I love exploring the local area – diving, camping and lying on the many glorious beaches the region has to offer.”

Coral Bay is on the world renowned Ningaloo Coast. Find out more here.

From England to the Kimberley: Damian's journey

Damian Jolly enjoying some downtime in the Kimberley
Damian Jolly enjoying some downtime in the Kimberley.

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but for English health professional Damian Jolly, the journey began with a 12,000 mile trip to one of the world’s most remote hospitals.

Several years ago and after much research and planning, Damian and his wife Paula, also a health professional, packed up their lives and left the cold, grey skies of Burnley for Kununurra, in WA’s remote East Kimberley region.

Prior to joining the WA Country Health Service, Damian worked in the UK as a paramedic, the Manager of an Emergency Control Room and the Director of Emergency Operations for an ambulance service. He said he found the experience gained in UK cities stood him in good stead for the challenge of running a small hospital group several hours’ drive from the nearest major Emergency Department.

Five years on and now in a senior role in Royal Perth Hospital, Damian said he could not be happier with how his Kimberley adventure turned out.

“My UK experience gave me a depth and understanding of ‘whole of health’ systems, which I was able to apply in remote locations such as Halls Creek and Kununurra,” Damian said.

“The Kimberley is very beautiful but it can also be harsh. After working through two major floods and numerous cyclones, bush fires and many motor vehicle incidents, I have come to value being part of a small, dedicated team that’s also part of the local community.

“The way of life in the Kimberley is ‘call a spade a spade’. If you adopt the same authenticity, a natural connection occurs with the people.”

Damian said that he and his family also enjoyed unrivalled leisure time in the Kimberley.

“We have experienced the most beautiful beaches, water holes, ranges, and scenery on our weekends away. The people and place will leave a lasting memory in our lives as we move on to the next adventure.”

English doctor who made a difference in Geraldton

Dr Sam Bailey enjoys some downtime in the Midwest
Dr Sam Bailey enjoys some downtime in the midwest.

(Reprinted from WA Health's newsletter 'Health View Summer 2012', page 15)

Sam Bailey might be enjoying the quieter pace of life in Western Australia’s Midwest, but the English-born and bred doctor is also pioneering a program more commonly associated with inner city street drugs.

Dr Bailey trained in Brighton and Sussex Medical School before spending several years working in UK acute hospitals. Keen to expand his skills in the area of public health and with some travelling experience in Australia, he applied for a 12-month appointment as a Resident Medical Officer in Population Health, based in Geraldton.

Now two months into his stint, Dr Bailey has recently implemented a new vaccination and testing initiative aimed at preventing disease in recovering drug addicts.

Patients who attend the methadone clinic receive blood tests and vaccinations against hepatitis A and B at the same time, preventing new infections of the liver in the future.

Dr Bailey said he was pleased that his role in Public Health had given him the opportunity to make a real difference to long-term disease prevention in the region.

“Working in emergency departments is challenging and rewarding, but working on wards can sometimes feel like fire fighting – you see a patient when they are already very ill,” Dr Bailey said.

“I was keen to gain more experience in policy-making and prevention of illness, and my role in the Midwest has helped me do that.

“In addition to the methadone program, I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to remote Indigenous communities in Yalgoo,  Meekatharra and Cue to undertake eye disease screening in school children.

“I have also been able to work in the management of disease outbreaks and within the sexual health team screening the local community. It’s rewarding to be part of a small and dedicated team and the range of health challenges among populations in the region has helped me build my skills as a doctor.”

Dr Bailey said he and his partner, a pharmacist, were greatly enjoying the chance to experience one of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes.

“We have been able to spend a lot of weekends seeing the place, camping and enjoying the scenery particularly around Kalbarri,” Dr Bailey said.

“It’s been a fantastic experience so far and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to spend a year in this part of the world.”

Midwest doctor receives World AIDS Day award

Midwest wildflowers

A Geraldton based doctor was recently recognised for her tireless work in one of health’s more difficult areas.

WA Country Health Service – Midwest’s Public Health Physician, Associate Professor Marisa Gilles, was awarded the 2013 World Aids Day Rural and Remote Award by the WA AIDS Council for being what they called one of the “heroes of the epidemic.”

Dr Gilles, a public health physician for more than 20 years, has dedicated almost 15 of those to helping a small cohort of rural and remote HIV positive people in WA.  

Since 1998 Dr Gilles and her multidisciplinary team have faced many highs and lows working with their small cohort and have formed strong relationships with their patients.

“I am very proud of our contribution in slowing the spread of the disease, despite some challenging personal conditions, as it was expected to reach epidemic levels,” Dr Gilles said.

“We have had 16 negative babies born to HIV mothers, with only one positive baby in 19 years.  We are getting results and people with HIV can live a long and happy life if they follow the correct care.

“However, it can also be frustrating when we fail to persuade people to take their medications, because life is just too challenging for them and we watch them get sick and ultimately die.”

Dr Gilles spent her first six years in Nigeria, Africa where her dad worked as a doctor. It seems the apple did not fall far from the tree, as this experience helped mould Dr Gilles into a strong advocate for the underdog.

After completing her medical training in the UK, she spent time in China learning traditional medicine and acupuncture before travelling to Queensland to complete her Masters in Tropical Health which included field work in the Solomon Islands.

A three-month stint as a locum doctor with the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Alice Springs led to her staying another four years and opened the door to Dr Gilles’ involvement in Aboriginal health.

“I fell in love with the culture and people in Alice Springs and I have been involved in Aboriginal health now for 25 years.  I have also been involved with a clinic at a local prison for the past nine years where 98 per cent of the inmates are Aboriginal,” Dr Gilles said

With a driving force to expose and address inequity, Dr Gilles firmly believes that if holistic care is provided, equal outcomes can be achieved even in challenging situations.

Laverton brings out the best in nurses

The award-winning nursing team enjoying the spectacular Laverton scenery
The award-winning nursing team enjoying the spectacular Laverton scenery.

It’s probably no surprise that four of WA’s top nurses work at the same hospital – but you might be surprised to learn that the hospital is more than a day’s drive from Perth.

Community health nurse Christine Stubberfield, registered nurse Jasmine Brown, clinical nurse Kirsten Fleming and Director of Nursing Elissa Stout all work in Laverton in either the Community or the eight-bed Laverton Hospital, located in WA’s north-eastern Goldfields.

The four nurses, whose combined experience at Laverton totals about 30 years, were either finalists or winners in the Western Australian Nursing and Midwifery Excellence Awards 2013.

Although the four women have taken very different life paths to Laverton, all are passionate about living and working in the town they now call home. Christine, a category finalist, hails from Cambridge, England and was at a professional and personal crossroads when she first travelled to Australia.

“I wanted to work in tropical medicine and was keen to volunteer with Médecins Sans Frontières, but I could not find a position,” Christine said.

“My best friend was working in St Vincent’s in Sydney so I went there for a few months and loved it.”

Determined to fulfil her dream of working in tropical medicine, Christine joined a nursing agency with the hope of finding a place up north. She was placed at Newman, then a three-month stint in Laverton. Nine years later she is still there, working and living in the town with her husband.

“It’s not very tropical,” Christine joked.

“The attraction of Laverton is the community – they are great. I also love the space to breathe, and the quiet.

“Plus, the daily challenge of working with limited resources enables you to improve your problem-solving skills and think outside the box.”

Jasmine, who graduated in New Zealand in 1991, was joint winner of the Rural and Remote Clinical Registered Nurse category of the wards, along with her colleague Kirsten, a New Zealander who has lived in Laverton for ten years. Jasmine has worked in remote and emergency medicine, mental health, adult jail and juvenile custody. She was living in NSW when she and her partner starting looking for a better family life.

“We saw Laverton as an option where we could both work in our chosen fields and have the family life we wanted while avoiding the FIFO lifestyle,” Jasmine said.

“Working in Laverton is enjoyable and challenging most days. As nurses we are continually developing skills and knowledge. We have a great camaraderie and this comes about when you genuinely like and respect your colleagues for the exceptional skills they have.”

Elissa also came to Laverton initially for a three-month contract in 2003. She won the Emerging Leader award in recognition of her day-to-day running of Laverton’s hospital services managing clinical staff and support staff. As there is not always a doctor on site, Elissa works closely with the Regional Centre - Kalgoorlie Health Campus and  the on-call general practitioners. She also has support from the Royal Flying Doctor Service to guide her nurses in providing outstanding clinical services.

Laverton is located in the Goldfields region of Western Australia, almost 1000km from Perth.

Kalgoorlie cures Andrea of travel bug

Andrea visiting Antony Gormley's famous sculptures at Lake Ballard in WA's Goldfields
Andrea visiting Antony Gormley's famous sculptures at Lake Ballard in WA's Goldfields.

It’s a familiar story throughout the WA Country Health Service – experienced clinicians with a passion for travel visit an outback country town and several years later now call that place ‘home’.

So it was for New Zealand-born Andrea Howard, who was recently appointed Clinical Nurse Manager Maternity at Kalgoorlie Hospital.

Andrea is a trained midwife with a Bachelor of Nursing degree. She has been a childbirth educator and an inveterate traveller for more than 20 years, combining her training and university study with travel and raising children for much of that time. 

“During my midwifery studies as a mature-age student in New Zealand I learned that Australia was short of midwives so I decided to head over the ditch,” Andrea explained.

“I completed a graduate midwife program in rural South Australia, which was my first taste of Australian heat, flies and the health care system.”

Andrea and her partner, an electrician, spent four years in Brisbane before hitching up a caravan to explore Australia, starting with North Queensland then heading south. Curiosity prompted their visit to Kalgoorlie in 2012.

“Several midwives I knew had raved about Kalgoorlie, plus we’d seen the TV series ‘Kalgoorlie Cops’ and wanted to check out if it was really that bad,” Andrea joked. “We came for three months and 15 months later are still here and loving our work and exploring the wonderful Goldfields region.”

Andrea said she was passionate about improving midwifery services and that her new role would enable her to help improve services for Goldfields women.

“Helping women to achieve a safe pregnancy and birth attracted me to midwifery. There are some really exciting things on the horizon in the region and I’m excited to be part of it,” Andrea said.

South West nurse takes the lead with national research project

Mary-Rose Godsell on the Bunbury beachfront
Mary-Rose Godsell on the Bunbury beachfront.

A lifelong professional interest in infection prevention and control has led to a South West nurse playing a leading role in a research project which has just been published in a major international journal.

Nurse consultant Mary-Rose Godsell is the co-author of a paper recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control. The paper examines the experience of health professionals caring for patients who are under what is referred to as transmission-based precautions for specific infections.

These precautions are used to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and micro-organisms in health care settings.

Ms Godsell conducted her research in three South West hospitals. It was completed as part of Ms Godsell's Honours degree through Griffith University in Queensland. It sheds light on how caring for patients in isolation is experienced by nurses, doctors and other health professionals.

“The essential finding of the research was that health professionals’ relationship and rapport with patients - and the communication with their families, visitors and colleagues -  was critical to the quality and safety of health care related to infection prevention and control,” Ms Godsell explained.

Ms Godsell, who has lived and worked in the South-West for ten years, was awarded First Class Honours from Griffith for her dissertation.

“I hope my research will support quality and safety for health professionals and their patients, and play a role in preventing health care associated infections,” Ms Godsell said.