Talking about Global Health Drinks

aka Postcards from the Edge 005

Whilst most of our postcard stories of international medicine come from far flung locations telling tales of adventurous and exotic medical experiences, one could argue that a lot of international medical work starts at home through a ferment of inspiration, ideas, connections with the right people and guidance on the “nuts and bolts” of how to do it. In light of this, we present this ‘postcard from the centre’ featuring a Sydney phenomenon called “Global Health Drinks” that is both educational and inspiring to up-and-coming international medicos.

I have have been attending these meetings, which occur on a quarterly basis, for a number of years now and have noticed a that it’s success is not accidental. Behind every successful and inspiring event is a team of enthusiastic and dedicated organisers, one of whom festures in this interview:  Dr James Thompson, (or “JJ” as he is known in the hood of international medicine!), who is one of the founding members of GHDs and has been key player in its activities to date.

The Conversation

Bish: Welcome to Postcards from the Edge JJ – thanks for agreeing to be interviewed!

JJ: My pleasure. Love your work with the postcards Bish!

Bish: Could you tell us a little about the story of how GHDs started, what has happened since this time, how long it’s been around for and what it hopes to achieve?

JJ: It all started in a living room 5 years ago, when 5 young doctor mates with an interest in developing world health got together to brainstorm ideas. We felt that in Sydney hospitals there was no voice or network for JMO’s (junior medical officers) and registrars who were interested in global health issues or work; everyone was obsessed with exams and job applications and mortgages and Global Health had fallen off the map!

So we wanted to start a network of young doctors interested in global health to share job opportunities, experiences, contacts and expertise, and to keep people engaged and inspired in global aid work throughout their career.

We modeled it on ‘Green Drinks’ (now known as ‘GreenUps‘) where people would get together and hear inspirational and educational talks from doctors who have undertaken aid work at all levels of experience, and all specialties, from all over the world. Because it is held in a relaxed pub environment people can also talk over a drink afterwards to share advice, stories and build up a network of expertise. 5 years later, it’s still going strong with hundreds of members, 4 events per year, a dedicated organising committee, and a newly redeveloped website. We are grateful to our loyal sponsors Austwide Locums and MDA National without whom we wouldn’t exist.

Bish: JJ you’ve been an active member of the GHD crew – what is your current job and what are your career aspirations? What inspired you to become interested in doing international medical work?

JJ: I first got inspired at University of New South Wales as a medical student by the Medical Students’ Aid Project (MSAP), a group which raises funds, buys/ begs for equipment and medications and then delivers it with elective students to the coalface of developing country hospitals.

I learnt here that anyone can get involved and make a real tangible contribution, and that at every stage of your career you can do something valuable (if you wait until you’re a consultant you’ll never do it).

I took supplies to Port Vila, and to and Tanna hospitals in Vanuatu, and the simple supplies such as antibacterial soaps, opthalmoscopes and pulse oximeters were put to use immediately! It was an empowering experience, and one that ensured my lifetime commitment to “global health”. Right now, I’m working as a Urology registrar in Sydney, and working on a possible trip to Vietnam with a group of volunteer urologists to train local surgeons and undertake complex operations beyond the capacity of local expertise. I am also looking into options for field work in the Pacific and Africa with the Royal Australian College of Surgeons and a British urological aid organisation, but no trips are confirmed just yet.

Bish: I know this question is difficult when you have such an interesting forum with so many great events and speakers, but can you name 3 memorable speakers or talks given at past GHD sessions that have made a big impact on yourself or the GHD audience, and tell us why?

JJ: I can’t remember a speaker that hasn’t been inspirational and entertaining so yeah that’s a toughy! I remember a great talk given by Dr Marion Lee, an emergency physician from St George hospital (now at the Prince of Wales Hospital) who was a pioneer in improving the emergency departments of Papua New Guinean hospitals and was integral in setting up emergency training there. I remember she stressed the importance of getting involved early in your career, saying “go early on or you never will”. Dr Andrew Ellis, an Orthopod from Royal North Shore, gave a fascinating talk at our first ever event on his work in Sumatra after the Tsunami. But perhaps the talks that touch my heart the most have been from our very own GHD committee members who have been inspired by GHDs then gone out into the field then come back and shared their experiences as a speaker to bring the whole organisation full circle, such as our charismatic colleagues Carolyn Sein and Janet Loughran or our co-founder Greg Fox.

Bish: Finally, is there any other message that you would like to promote to our reading audience related to GHD or international medicine?

JJ: I guess the most important thing is for people to realise they can do anything they want in global health. If you want to work in a remote GP clinic in Peru, or in surgery in Tanzania or in thyroid research in Vanuatu, we know people who’ve done it all! Also you can start at any level of training, whether it be an elective as a medical student, a 2 week trip assisting with clinics and research as a resident, or a year long adventure as a registrar… And you don’t need to take time out of your training to do it, for example you can often get overseas work accredited with GP, ED and physician training colleges. So no excuses, start asking around and get into it!

Bish: Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed JJ, and good luck in all your future endeavors!

JJ: Cheers Bish, and good luck for your very own GHDs talk on Thursday buddy 🙂

Postcards from the edge LITFL 700


from the edge

Emergency Physician FACEM PhD (ANU), International Research in Toxicology and Medical Education | @trainthetrainer |

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