Gordon Wicks, father of three has been a local Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Port Macquarie for the past 28 years. After a fulfilling career as a Specialist in both fields and having delivered some 7,000 babies, at least 5,500 of these in Port Macquarie, he shares his story, the highlights and changes he has seen in the local area.
> Gordon, tells us how you embarked on your career path and why you chose it.
Having graduated from Sydney University at the end of 1973, I spent several years doing general residency training affiliated to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. I then went into general practice in Quirindi, south of Tamworth with a view to becoming a Rural GP. It didn’t take long for me realise that my practical skills in obstetrics were not adequate to practice obstetrics in a community remote from specialist care.
Initially, I contemplated doing a six month Diploma of Obstetrics. Consultants I had previously worked for at King George V Hospital kindly arranged for me to go to London, where I commenced working in obstetrics and gynaecology at Kings College Hospital. I became more enthused about the whole idea there and changed from a six month diploma course to begin my full specialist training.
Subsequently, I returned to Sydney, where I did another five years of specialist training between Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Westmead Hospital.
> Before coming to Port Macquarie, you did some work in Papua New Guinea. How was that experience?
As part of three years of specialist training at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, I was offered the opportunity of doing a 12 month rotation to Papua New Guinea. This included six months in Port Moresby and another six months at Garoka in the Highlands of New Guinea.
The second half of that year was remote from any specialist support and was certainly a wonderful training ground for obstetrics in particular.
In New Guinea you get thrown in the deep end and learn very quickly how to manage obstetric complications. I often reflect on that year in New Guinea and remember it as probably the best year of my life in terms of professional training and lifetime experience.
> You found when you came to Port Macquarie there were resident staff but no junior staff who had obstetric experience …
When I came to Port Macquarie at the end of 1981, Dr John Tollis had been the only Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Port Macquarie, and he had been here for seven years. The town was growing quickly and there was certainly a lot of work around for both of us at that time. The town has continued to grow, and we now have four Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the town. Initially when I came here we had junior resident staff at the hospital who were not involved with the delivery of babies at all.
I look back to those early 14 – 16 years, where I remember going into the hospital frequently at night and on weekends to deliver babies and to provide gynaecological services.
In the last 12 years we have become a Teaching Hospital for Registrars, who themselves are learning to become Specialists. They are generally first on call, so the number of attendances to the Hospital between midnight and dawn has reduced significantly.
It was not easy for my family when I think back over those early years. Frequently, we would plan to go somewhere when the children were young and we would either have to delay the departure or travel in two cars, so that I could attend the hospital rather than the function as planned. My children did not think very much of medicine, as they only saw the after hours work in terms of what an obstetrician does.
> What are some of the highlights of your career in and outside the area?
Professionally the highlight has been the development of what is now a comprehensive obstetrics and gynaecology service in Port Macquarie. We have become a very active component of NSW University Rural Medical School.
We have medical students doing all their obstetric and gynaecology training here and they have achieved outstanding results in recent years, reflecting the personal tuition that they get in the hospital.
The training of Registrars who come to us from Royal North Shore Hospital and from the Royal Hospital for Women at Randwick for a six month rotation has also been a valuable challenge in my career.
To see Port Macquarie Base Hospital develop over the last 15 years has been wonderful. Previously, the district hospital served the local community, whereas we now are a referral hospital accepting patients from a much wider medical network and managing most of the medical problems in Port Macquarie.
> What opportunities are there in Port Macquarie for medical students or those wanting to get into medicine?
Medical students who are doing their training at UNSW have the choice of doing their training in Sydney or in the Rural Medical School. The Rural Medical School has three locations in Wagga, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.
Those students who come to Port Macquarie to do their training might hopefully one day consider returning to this or other rural locations to practice as Doctors.
I think they can see that there is an opportunity to combine good medical service with a life outside medicine when you live in a rural community. As I said earlier, the results that the obstetric and gynaecology students have achieved in Port Macquarie in recent years have been nothing short of outstanding.
> Delivering some 7,000 babies is amazing. Do you have an amazing story to tell about any particular delivery?
All deliveries are individual, but certainly some stand out in my memory. In the early days of my time in Port Macquarie, I remember one lady who was established in labour in the early hours of the morning.
She lived on the North Shore and in the panic to get onto the ferry and transfer to the hospital, the ferry brake was apparently not applied. As her car drove onto the ferry, the ferry moved away from the shore, leaving the car stranded in the water.
Subsequently, a boat was found to transfer her across the river and an ambulance then brought her to the hospital, where she delivered uneventfully.
Another delivery I will always remember with great fondness was the birth of my third child Tom. All was progressing well in Fiona’s labour, and in the presence of the attending Obstetrician, I actually had the unique experience of delivering my own son.
Not many people get to do that in a hospital environment, although those who do deliver their own child on the back seat of a car on the way to hospital probably share in the joy that this particular delivery gave me.
In the last 10 or so years, I have delivered a large number of ‘grandchildren’. It is special delivering a baby to someone whom you delivered yourself many years ago.
> We hear you are a keen sportsman, both participating and spectating. What keeps you active outside of work?
I am not particularly good at any one sport, but I certainly have enjoyed participating and spectating in a number of sports in my time in Port Macquarie. It is one of the joys of working in community this size that you can continue to do those other activities despite the fact that you are regularly on call at the hospital.
In my early years in town, I had five seasons of cricket in the local district competition. I have always enjoyed the occasional game of golf and tennis. In recent years, I have become a daily swimmer at the olympic pool. My passions remain cricket and rugby, and I try to get to the occasional Super 14 or Test match during the rugby season.
> After such a rewarding career and given the lifestyle here in Port Macquarie, what is next for you?
I guess I am semi-retiring, as I will continue working in the public sector at Port Macquarie Base Hospital. Every fourth week I am on-call at the hospital.
I have just signed a new contract there until the end of June 2013, and I look forward to participating in the teaching of Registrars and medical students and the provision of an obstetric and gynaecology service for many years to come.
As this involves every fourth week, I will now have the opportunity in the other weeks to pursue other interests, which hopefully will include a more regular opportunity to see the golf course, as well as walking, swimming and travelling.
Two years ago Fiona and I and our three children did the Kokoda Track as a ‘family holiday’. The thought of doing some of the other walks that the world offers now appeals to me very much, and I hope to get the opportunity to do some of these.
> Thank you Gordon and all the best.