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Making the choice to fight injustice

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust
Published online: 29 May 2021

DR Skye Kinder wants to dispel one myth about focusing on rural health – the narrative that going to the country to practise is somehow detrimental to a doctor’s career.

The just-turned-30-year-old psychiatry trainee has been on the receiving end of a long string of awards and recognition, the latest being named on the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list.

“The myth that pursuing an interest in rural health might somehow be detrimental to your career in medicine is a ridiculous narrative,” Dr Kinder tells the MJA.

“All of the advocacy work that I've done has, in no small part, been related to rural health. It's directly led me to the accolades that we're talking about.

“It's certainly been of no disadvantage to my career to have an interest in rural health, and eroding that false narrative is important for improving rural health care.”

Dr Kinder still thinks of herself as “a public school girl from the Loddon Mallee” advocating for equitable health care and social justice for people from disadvantaged socio-economic groups and the marginalised.

Along the way she has been named the 2017 Junior Doctor of the Year for Victoria, the 2019 Victorian Young Australian of the Year, and one of the Australian Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence in 2019. Recently she was elected Vice President of the Rural Doctors Association of Victoria.

All that while continuing to make her way through psychiatry training at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

The young Skye Kinder became interested in medicine because her father has a long-term severe lung condition that required, and still requires him to travel regularly from Bendigo to Melbourne for treatment.

“My dad was told when I was a child that he wouldn't live to see me turn 13. I remember feeling that that was inherently very unfair from a very young age,” she says.

“Initially my focus was on becoming a doctor, so that there could be more doctors in my community, and so that people like my dad wouldn’t have to travel to Melbourne for care.

“When I did get into medicine there was a moment of realisation about how common the scenario that we went through is for people living in regional and rural areas, and even large regional centers like Bendigo.”

Life is undoubtedly busy for Dr Kinder. Between training, clinical practice, teaching medical students and her advocacy and volunteer work, there isn’t a lot of time to overthink things.

“You can overthink the work/life balance thing,” she says. “We can spend too much time thinking about how to balance things rather than just trying to balance them. It's often about doing rather than analysing.”

So, what drives Dr Kinder to go hard every single day?

“A lot of what I do is filled by the rage of unfairness, to be honest” she says.

“I find it hard to sit with some of the injustices that people, and particularly people from regional and rural settings, and particularly people from lower socio-economic settings, and particularly women within both of those settings, have to face.

“Everything that we do is a choice, that's my view. We make choices every day.

“You can choose to be the doctor that says hello to the medical student in the back of the room, or you can choose to not say hello. It really doesn't change the amount of effort that you had to put in for the day. It's a choice and saying that it's anything else is a bit of a cop out, in my view.

“I think that philosophy can be extrapolated across lots of aspects of our work. We all have to make choices – choosing to look around the room, whatever room you're in, choosing to see the injustice that's in the room, and then choosing to do something about it.

“Some people choose not to do these things and that's their prerogative. But I choose to do them because I think it's the right thing to do.”

It took three attempts for Dr Kinder to be accepted into medical school. In the meantime she completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science, and hounded academics at Harvard University until one of them agreed to take her on.

“He said, ‘I know who you are, because you've emailed every other person in my department’. He said to me, ‘either you're the most dedicated and motivated person that I've ever had contact me, or you're a bit questionable, and I don't know which one it is, but I'm willing to give you a chance’,” says Dr Kinder.

“What I learned from all of that was firstly, don’t be worried about people rejecting you because it's inconsequential at the end of the day. And secondly, not many people do put themselves out there and ask for opportunities. If you are somebody who's willing to ask, then there are people out there who are willing to give you a chance.”

Teaching students is something that has been a pleasant surprise for Dr Kinder.

“They are so energetic and enthusiastic and haven't necessarily experienced certain parts of the medical training system that can grind you down or burn you out,” she says.

“They remind me of what the bigger goal is, and what the biggest picture looks like. Sometimes when you're in those training systems, it can be easy to lose sight of why you enjoyed medicine in the first place.

“I find the students refresh me and help me to reset my own perspective. They fill my tank back up and allow me to keep doing what I'm doing.”

It’s hard to imagine Dr Kinder doing anything other than going full steam ahead, but trying to second-guess is not something she’s interested in.

“Half the things that I've been able to do I didn't even know were things that somebody could do until I got the chance,” she says.

“People ask me all the time, where do you see yourself in 5-10 years, what's your career going to be?

“I've almost intentionally chosen not to plan that stuff, because for me, the success has been in looking around the room, seeing the injustice, doing something about it, and not thinking too much about what the end goal has to be for me.

“I just keep taking opportunities as they come up. All of those opportunities lead to other opportunities.

“Medicine is a career of endless opportunities. We are so privileged to be in the position we’re in as doctors.

“Why would I want to limit myself and my career to what I think is possible right now, when there are so many opportunities that are going to come up along the journey. I want to be able to seize the moment.”

  • Cate Swannell


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