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Variety, growth, contribution

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja16.0711C1
Published online: 7 November 2016

Dr Liz Sigston is an ENT surgeon, breast cancer survivor, single mother of two, CEO, entrepreneur, coach, mentor and advocate. It’s a busy, balanced life …

BREAST cancer changed the way Dr Liz Sigston lived and practiced, and, she says, it made her a better doctor, and a more balanced, happier human being.

Dr Sigston is a busy ENT surgeon in Melbourne, working mainly in the public system at Monash Health, but also in private practice in Frankston. Ten years ago she was just back from 2 years in France, was recovering from the breakdown of her marriage, and juggling her career with being a single mother to two children.

Then she was diagnosed with cancer and everything stopped.

“It was interesting because it made me stop and really reflect on my life, who I was, what I wanted to do, what was important to me, and gave me time to do that,” Dr Sigston tells the MJA.

“As a medical professional we don’t put aside time to do that sort of thing. It was actually really special.

“It gave me a different outlook and a different view to how I think we need to move forward in addressing health care.

“It absolutely made me a better doctor.

“One of the big things, I think, is developing gratitude, and so it was a time for me to actually practice and to develop that in myself. That’s something I can pass on to people that I speak to.

“We don’t always necessarily have the opportunity to cure someone, but there’s still that ability for them to be grateful for what they have or what they have had.

“When you start connecting with that it changes the way your body feels and operates and actually changes your physiology.”

Dr Sigston is Brisbane-born, and settled in Melbourne as a child when her RAAF father was based there. Medicine wasn’t in her plans – she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and fly fighter planes.

“But then at some point I realised that women didn’t get to fly the planes, or if they did, it was the cargo planes and that didn’t seem very exciting,” she says.

She graduated from Monash University in 1994 and flirted briefly with plastics before finding her calling as an ear, nose and throat specialist, with a particular interest in cancer of the neck.

A decade down the track from her own cancer experience, Dr Sigston is still juggling, but now her life is filled with a variety that balances the intensity of medical practice. She’s not just a doctor, she’s also a CEO of a thriving company, an entrepreneur, a 2015 finalist in the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year in Victoria, a coach and a mentor and a vocal advocate for gender equity in health care.

Her company, SavinGreen, is a telecommunications and energy brokerage provider which created a “voluntary offset program that ties all sales to the planting of trees”, a scheme that has seen the company responsible for the seeding of over 60 000 trees to date.

The company grew from her cancer experience and from a viewing of Al Gore’s definitive documentary, An inconvenient truth.

“We’re a lot more interconnected than we often take time to recognise,” she says. “If we have an unhealthy environment, we can’t expect to be healthy.

“There was a lot of talk about, yes, we all wanted to do something, but [it became clear that it] might just be a bit too hard.

“I really believe that change is going to come from the community and small business, it’s not going to be driven by governments and big business, so I thought I can do something about this by creating a business model … by letting people choose whatever services we’re providing and we can tie that to positive environmental outcomes.”

If the 22-year-old Liz Sigston walked through the door, the present-day version says they probably wouldn’t recognise each other.

“Even 5 years ago I was a lot shier than what I am now. That confidence has built from doing things outside of medicine, rather than staying within the structure. It lets you discover more of who you are.

“There’s more to life than being a surgeon, or a doctor,” she says. “Think of it as you doing surgery, and that allows you to discover who you really are.”

For Dr Sigston being a sane, balanced, professional woman means fulfilling three core needs.

“Once you understand what you’re driving needs are … my driving needs are around variety, growth and contribution … once you have those identified and you start working, doing things that contribute to that, that’s when life starts to become really satisfying.

“It’s about knowing your needs, knowing you value, and knowing your purpose.”

  • Cate Swannell


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