Mind matters - Dr Gordon Shymko reflects on his career in psychiatry

Karen Burge
Med J Aust
Published online: 18 March 2013

Dr Gordon Shymko is the clinical director of the Peel and Rockingham Kwinana Mental Health Service (PaRK MHS) in Western Australia and the consultant psychiatrist responsible for the Early Episode Psychosis Program. His clinical interest is in the area of managing psychotic disorders, particularly early presentations of psychosis in youth and the psychopharmacology of these illnesses. Throughout his career, Dr Shymko has maintained a strong interest in supervision and teaching and has been an inspiration to those he has mentored

I have always enjoyed the holistic and individualised nature of providing care in psychiatry. To work with patients who so readily share their life experience is such a privilege and responsibility. What crystallised my initial interest relates to mentoring. When I was a medical student, I came to the first day of my rotation in psychiatry to find that I had been placed with a psychiatrist who had a reputation for being “tough” on medical students. It turned out that he simply didn’t suffer fools gladly. He became a wonderful mentor and teacher, and demonstrated an unbridled enthusiasm and interest in the area which was infectious.

I work within a public mental health system. As the clinical director, my responsibilities span the range of services that we provide within community and inpatient and across adult to older adult. I can start my day anywhere within a 100-kilometre range as we cover a large catchment area. I maintain a high clinical workload and, on a given day, will be seeing inpatients from an open to a closed ward setting or seeing patients in our community services. I provide a number of second opinions, try to prioritise educational meetings and I enjoy participating in our journal club, local tutorials and exam practice opportunities. I also attempt to maintain supervision sessions with registrars as sacrosanct, and enjoy the variety of supervision opportunities.

I have established a good track record over the years within my clinical and supervisory work and it is from this that I draw much satisfaction. Professionally, since 2000, I have enjoyed working with the PaRK MHS and feel that the service has been community focused, progressive and collaborative. When I undertook the clinical director role in 2006 we were in the early stages of developing our inpatient service. This was quite an eye-opener to squarely experience the bureaucracy of health. We worked hard to develop a unit that our local community can be proud of.

I enjoy the day-to-day clinical work with clients and carers immensely. Working with youth within an early intervention-for-psychosis framework is exceptionally rewarding. I have enjoyed the opportunity to influence service development and delivery in my role as clinical director. I enjoy the collegiality of my work and my experiences being able to supervise, teach and mentor staff. Anyone who has undertaken a management role such as clinical director would offer similar experiences regarding the challenges of such a role, especially balancing the desire to provide strong service delivery within the administrative constraints around structure and budget. With mental health, service demand routinely outstrips capacity.

I have been mentored by a number of people throughout my career. Dr Blaine Sanderman, whose clinical skills and principles were unparalleled ­— I gained an immense intangible clinical knowledge from him that I draw upon daily; Dr Henry Piktel, who taught me the importance of humour, humility and compassion; Dr John Kelly, who taught me the principles of psychotherapy; Dr Sandy Tait, from whom I learnt about leadership and the principles and structures of service delivery; and Professor Pat McGorry — I have been influenced by his approach to client care and by the vision, dedication and leadership that he has provided to our profession.

  • Karen Burge



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