Dr Gemma Hounslow with husband Robin Belford in their hometown of Busselton.

Q&A with… Dr Gemma Hounslow, Retired Busselton GP

MF: When and why did you decide to do medicine?

GH: It was at the end of high school in 1974! My exam results were better than expected so I changed my option from Physical Education to Medicine (at a cost of $20). Also a few of my friends from school were also doing medicine. There was no ‘gap year’ so we all went straight in. I was 17. Seems crazy now.

MF: When you graduated, what were your aspirations for your medical career?

GH: To do the best I could and have fun along the way in the hospital setting…and we did!

MF: What was the moment you decided to do general practice?

GH: I was married and having babies and it just seemed the best fit. I had worked in UK for the NHS in the 1980s and I really didn’t want to do any more exams!

MF: Where has that decision taken you?

GH: Well, city general practice was quite frankly boring me so we decided to move to Busselton with two small children. The initial plan was a trial for two years, now it’s 28 years later. Time just flew. It was a very busy time.

MF: What were the motivations to go rural?

GH: Well my husband had been retrenched, I was looking for a more ‘exciting’ practice and a friend also wrote to me to join him in Busselton. The town was growing so it was perfect timing to give it a go in 1992.

My husband was also happy to be the primary care giver. This was not so common back in 1992 and absolutely essential if our trial was to work as the on-call commitments were huge. I was doing a 1:3 on-call for all patients and we all shared the on-call for the Emergency Department as well as doing obstetrics. This type of work was unheard of in the city for GPs.

MF: What has rural practice given you that you may not have experienced in the metropolitan area?

GH: The kids had a wonderful small town/community childhood and made lifelong friends at school. Life was just easier. No commuting hassles. We really didn’t lock the house.

I had a much closer relationship with patients and friends. In a small town you are living, working and socialising with patients. Patients become friends and friends become patients!

MF: What have been the highs and lows of being a doctor in a small(er) community?

GH: The pleasure of looking after several generations of the one family. In one instance I was looking after four generations of one family.

It was cradle-to-grave medicine. But that can also give you the lows. One has to live with your mistakes and even see them while you are shopping. It can be a double-edged sword.

MF: When did you know it was time to retire?

GH: About 12 months before I officially retired. I had been sick and taking a lot of time off. The increase in paperwork and IT were also getting to me, if I’m honest.

Also, medicine is changing. Now everything has a guideline to follow for medico-legal purposes.

My husband had also retired early in 2017 and I had been slowing down for several years. It was an easy decision for me.

MF: How hard was it to tell your patients?

GH: It wasn’t too bad but I had planned it all. I gave myself plenty of time to tell them personally as they came in. This was four to six months before I retired.

The staff was also given permission to inform patients as we went along so we were able to give people a final date, which was all planned. There were many gifts and appointments just to say goodbye…and some tears, too.

MF: How does life in retirement look to you?

GH: Good, even though 2020 has been a strange, weird year for us all.

I’ve slipped into it pretty easily and also several friends have also retired so we can go through Irrelevance syndrome together!

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