Career progression across countries, marriage and family commitments

Dr Jennifer Elijah LINK, link and grow, jennifer Elijah, GP, general practitioner, RACGP

By Dr Jennifer Elijah

It was a regular workday at the hospital for me, Dr Jennifer Elijah (nee Levi), Registrar Anaesthesia at the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital Bombay. Rostered on for Ears Nose and Throat (ENT) cases for the day, it was during one case, with the patient under sedation, that the ENT surgeon asked me mid-procedure if I was dating anyone. I just said “no”, explaining that given the long hours worked at the hospital it was difficult to socialise. Next thing I know, the surgeon’s wife is talking to our family, and my mum is speaking to me about a proposal from the surgeon’s nephew, Jacob, asking to meet so we could determine if we would be interested in corresponding with a view to marriage.

Jacob’s family were in Australia, and I had never dreamt of leaving Bombay - I had intended to stay and practise with my aunt Dr Diana Levi, a general practitioner (GP), at Parel and Shivaji Park in Bombay. She was my mentor, and I had planned to take over her practice once she retired. My brother and sister-in-law, respectively practising obstetrics and gynaecology, and general surgery, were also in Bombay. Additionally, I had offers from prestigious Israeli hospitals for further academic training, and I was simultaneously preparing for my Diploma in Anaesthetics examination. Moving to Australia would mean rejecting these opportunities, and I also would not take the diploma exam as Australia requires a different exam (the AMC exam). Despite these factors, I took a risk and accepted Jacob’s marriage proposal, and moved to Australia for a fresh start.

I landed in Canberra in 1988. With only two family friends, it was lonely as Jacob was busy working (which included travelling). I did not feel that I could take on a job at the hospital especially when we were planning to start a family. I decided to take a back seat and became a housewife for 5 years. It was hard transitioning from being a busy anaesthetist in Bombay to being a housewife. Looking back, it was worth it that I was there for my baby, Deborah. She did not have to be in childcare. Once Deborah started school, I started working again.

I was lucky to get a job at the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Association). Although it was non-clinical, I started at a good level in the public service, was able to keep up with all the latest developments in the Medical Field, and maintained a good work/life balance. During this period of my career, I won the Professional and Technical Development Award at the TGA and worked in London, Amsterdam, and Israel as a result. I also published a few papers and wrote articles for the Adverse Drug Reaction Bulletin. When Deborah was in year 10, I decided to sit the AMC – I passed, but waited for my daughter to get into university, finish her degree, and settle down in her practice as a dentist before working in the hospital.

Again, I was lucky to start at the Queanbeyan Hospital as a Junior Resident Medical Officer (JRMO). I have been practising as a GP since 2017, initially for 7 months in Gunning and then as a GP Registrar as part of the AGPT Program at Queanbeyan GP Super Clinic. All this happened with great help and understanding from my daughter and husband.

I faced many obstacles on the way to becoming a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP), including ill health and the COVID Pandemic. Delivery of patient care, the hours worked, clinic structure, and our communication skills were all tested and adapted. Another obstacle was that my fellowship clinical exam was online instead of in-person, and as a person who had minimal knowledge about computers, it was challenging. It was also difficult competing with a younger generation of doctors whose brains are like sponges. I was elated when I passed my Fellowship exam in these challenging times, at the age of 63. This was dream of following in my doctor aunt’s footsteps to help mankind and be of service to society.

Looking back on my journey, here are three key messages I have taken away:

  • Firstly, follow your dreams. It's never too late to achieve them;
  • Secondly, be proud of yourself. You play many supporting roles - a daughter, grand daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, and, to your patients, a doctor;
  • Finally, be passionate about what you do. Challenging times will help you to be stronger and achieve your goals.

I hope these messages inspire other women in healthcare on their journeys.