Shared care: when Medicine runs in the family

Professor Prue Morgan with students
L to R: Michael Nowotny and Ben Nowotny.

Michael and Ben Nowotny are a father and son team who both graduated from Monash Medicine – and they’re not the only Monash medics in their family. The pair reflect on their career journeys and the role Monash Medicine has played in their lives.

“My mother is a retired GP, my sister is a Monash medical graduate and the Director of medical services for north-western Tasmania,” says Michael. “My daughter Anna has also just applied for post-graduate medicine at Monash.”

“I graduated in 1985 and had my mind set on a rural GP pathway, but enjoyed my second postgraduate year in Paediatrics so much that I applied to the Paediatric program at the Royal Children’s Hospital for the following year.”

After a long stint in Darwin as a registrar while his wife Jo completed her law degree, the couple returned to Victoria in 1997 with two young boys. “I set up a group paediatric practice in West Gippsland, which started with two specialists and has now grown to seven. We also train college senior and junior trainees, GPs and Monash 4C students.”

Michael, who is now an Associate Professor at Monash University’s School of Rural Health, has recently co-developed a new pilot program to actively encourage paediatric training in regional Victoria and ultimately increase local access to paediatric services.

As the director of the Gippsland Regional Training hub and rural consortium director for the Victorian basic paediatric training consortium responsible for the training of paediatricians in Victoria, he strives to create pathways for graduates to undertake specialist training in rural and regional practice.

The program affords the development opportunities – independence, problem-solving and managing on limited resources – that Michael feels many city graduates miss out on in their formative years as doctors. It is also designed to ensure that small communities retain an important workforce.

“Having worked outside of a Metropolitan area for the last 30 years has been a privilege and a challenge to look after families with less access to services. Rural practice allows a broad scope of practice not available to our metro colleagues but requires an independent approach. The rewards in terms of community and lifestyle as well as interesting, challenging medicine are well worth the long hours and occasional scary moments.”

“Looking after members of my own community is a huge inspiration. Training the next generation of clinicians is extremely important to me. Having had the privilege to train my own son in Paediatrics was also a highlight – we now have shared postgraduate care of patients, which has been very rewarding.”

“The best advice I can give medical students starting out is don’t hesitate. Take the opportunities to be the best you – don’t be left with regrets,” he says.

“I am very proud to be a Monash graduate. I feel Monash medical graduates are very well trained and I am honoured to be part of such a strong Medical alumni community. Keep it up, Monash!”

Ben:

“We have quite a medical family,” says Ben. “I don’t think you can help but be influenced when surrounded by family who all work, or have worked, in healthcare.”

“To an extent I believe you do what you are exposed to. I think it was an advantage to know in advance what I was signing myself up to, and to see the great advantages of a career in medicine but to also be conscious of some of the lifestyle implications the career entails.”

Ben started his degree at Monash in 2012. “I was incredibly excited to have been given the opportunity to study medicine, particularly as I felt coming from a country school I had a low likelihood of getting an offer.”

Following two core years at Monash’s Clayton campus, he elected to move back to Warragul to continue his studies in Warragul Hospital, where he discovered his love for both rural health and obstetrics and gynaecology. “The latter was surprising to me as I had expected to hate my O&G placement,” he recalls. “I had a very naive understanding of what the specialty involved!”

Back in Melbourne, Ben undertook a Bachelor of Medical Science year with Professor Erwin Loh, then Chief Medical Officer at Monash Health, looking at safety lessons from healthcare complaints. “Erwin introduced me to Professor Euan Wallace, then director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology for Monash University and Head of Monash Health Women's and Newborn – Euan would go on to become one of my most influential mentors.”

“Under Euan's guidance I progressed to a PhD examining a field I had newly discovered – patient safety,” Ben says.

Ben’s PhD examined the use of routinely collected data in the healthcare system, and whether this data could be repurposed for use as an advanced warning system for health services at risk of critical safety failures.

“I had the opportunity to present this work both domestically and internationally, and subsequently worked as a project coordinator at the Department of Health, examining healthcare complaints for the remainder of my university degree,” he says.

“My PhD also exposed me to teaching, and for the three years of my PhD and my final year of medical school I was lucky enough to be employed by the university, teaching Biomedicine, Masters of Public Health, Health Sciences, and epidemiology and biostatistics to medical students.”

The country soon lured him back, and upon graduating and working much of his internship in Warragul, he and his wife moved there. “I undertook what was supposed to be a six-month resident term in obstetrics and gynaecology but extended this to be a full year, during which I applied for the O&G training program and was accepted. I am due to start this six-year training program at Monash Health in 2022, and I hope to be able to undertake some of it in Warragul.”

Once Ben had decided on a career in medicine he received complete support from his parents to secure a place in the degree. “We are a Monash family,” he says. “Both Dad and my aunt Kath went through the Monash medical degree, so it was my goal to be the first of the next generation of Monash medical graduates.”

“To his credit, Dad never directly swayed my decision on my career choice and would have supported me whatever I had chosen,” Ben continues. “But from a young age medicine was such a big part of my life that this had to have an influence. It was inspirational to have a father who was such an important figure in the community and who had a long track record of supporting the children of the region, many of whom I was friends with or went to school with.”

“I remember accompanying dad on weekend ward rounds at the hospital, when I was around four years of age, and the great sense of pride I felt when he'd introduce me as his assistant. Dad's old enough now that we're starting to share patients, which is quite amusing. Children that he has looked after are now grown up and seeing me for their pregnancy care.”

When it comes to living and working in regional areas, Ben and his father are on the same page: “It is such a privilege to care for the community you have grown up and have lived in, looking after people you know. Rural areas have been historically underserved and have overall poorer health outcomes than those in metropolitan areas – this makes the contribution feel greater.”

“My commute to work is four minutes door to door. I am surrounded by green parkland where I live. We socialise across hierarchical boundaries; interns, residents, registrars, and consultants will all go to the pub together and talk as equals. My parents live on 40 acres of land. Housing is cheaper. The pace of life is slower.”

“At work, you are forced to be more independent. There are fewer people competing for training opportunities. The work is more hands-on. You will have to manage anything that walks through the door without access to an ICU, pregnancy subspecialists, 24-hour operating theatres, 24-hour radiology or pathology, which means that at times you must be quite creative in how you care for people.”

“I absolutely love my job. I have never found anything in medicine quite as thrilling as helping couples become families. Looking after women over the whole lifespan is a rare privilege, and I am inspired by the patients more than anything else. It is my goal to provide the safest possible care in the most personal and patient-centred way I can.”

“My piece of life advice comes from my PhD supervisor Euan Wallace, who said of any opportunity: ‘Just say yes, the detail comes later’. This has been a guiding principle to me to just throw myself into any opportunity that comes up.”

“The other is advice from my mum Jo, who once told me that you can have all the awards, accolades, and high-profile jobs in the world, but if you don't look after your nearest and dearest and take them on the journey with you, you'll be left with nothing to show for it. I try to carry this with me and make sure that when I'm at home I am focused only on my family and my wonderful partner Kate, without whom I would be nothing.”

“Above all I am grateful for what my time at Monash has given me; friends for life, the experience to feel I can throw myself into new challenges, and the foundational medical knowledge that helps me care for my patients.”

“My hope for the next 60 years is that Monash can keep the spark that it has instilled in its graduates for the last 60 years, despite how much it might grow. There is something special about studying at Monash – my hope is that this will continue to be nurtured.”


About Monash University

Monash University is Australia’s largest university with more than 80,000 students. In the 60 years since its foundation, it has developed a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching, and inspiring innovation.

With four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy, it is one of the most internationalised Australian universities.

As a leading international medical research university with the largest medical faculty in Australia and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we consistently rank in the top 50 universities worldwide for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences.

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