Kellie working to fill healthcare gaps

When Wollongong doctor Kellie Marshall began her medical career, she wanted to make an impact on the maximum number of people.

The former Figtree High School student had a goal of improving the health and wellbeing of communities, rather than focusing solely on individual patients.

She began the journey with a psychology degree at the University of Wollongong.

After graduating with honours, Dr Marshall returned to campus after a short break for a doctorate in clinical psychology.

‘‘I wanted to be a clinical psychologist but it was never my intention to be a full-time clinician because I wanted to impact on a population, as well as at an individual level, and the only way I was going to do that was to move into the health arena and to move into organisations that could actually implement systems to support the community,’’ she says.

While studying to gain the doctorate, Dr Marshall worked part-time which she reflects gave her a rounded understanding of how the health system operated.

‘‘I actually worked in health as well as training clinically, seeing that it was important to get a sense of the real world while still trying to find my way as a clinician,’’ she says.

She started working at the former Illawarra Division of General Practice (IDGP) at the end of 2001 and is still there today although the organisation, along with the Shoalhaven Division of General Practice, evolved into the Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local in January 2012. It is part of   62 Medicare Locals established across Australia by the federal government.

Dr Marshall, 35, started in the IDGP in mental health project co-ordination and progressed into management. She is now the Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local chief executive.

‘‘It’s not a path I chose or planned, but one that I was supported into by a number of key people through my work life and training,’’ she says citing her family, Dr Andrew Dalley, and Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local board members.

She says the Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local is responsible for understanding the needs of the local community in order to identify service gaps and health system improvements. It aims to improve co-ordination of service delivery and access to healthcare services.

Dr Marshall says working in a Medicare Local has given her the opportunity to start driving improvements in primary healthcare in her own region.

‘‘I am very much a Wollongong girl,’’ she says. ‘‘I see huge opportunity in this region, in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, to improve our health outcomes.

‘‘I get worried when I see that our community has a higher than national average chronic disease rate and mental health issues.’’

The priorities were to implement initiatives to improve the integration of care in mental health, aged care, chronic disease and indigenous health.

‘‘Our priority is to enhance the health of the community but how we want to achieve that is through primary care, through general practice, through other health professionals, and by better working and integrating with other systems like the hospital, and improving referral pathways and access points,’’ she says.

‘‘We also want to work with the community to educate them about health.’’

Dr Marshall says Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local’s involvement in last month’s  Check It – a free men’s health screening event – was part of its major focus on preventative medicine, incorporating healthy lifestyles and wellness.

Medicare Local is also working on trying to attract health professionals to the region.

‘‘We can’t improve health in the community unless we’ve got the people here to do that,’’ she says.

‘‘We are working with the university to increase the workforce in our region, and this is particularly critical as we get to more rural communities further south.’’

One of Medicare Local’s greatest accomplishments was the founding of Headspace Illawarra in 2008.

Staffed by youth workers, general practitioners, psychologists and mental health nurses, Headspace delivers support and services with general health issues, mental health and well-being, and with alcohol and other drug issues, to young people aged 12 to 25.

A second Headspace hub has been operating in Nowra for four months.

Headspace Illawarra has helped 3000 young people since its inception and the Nowra centre has assisted 300 young people since opening.

Dr Marshall has always been a high achiever,  professionally and in her personal life. This year she became a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and she previously completed an advanced diploma in business administration at the University of New England.

While undertaking research for her doctorate, she was part of a team that developed an educational CD-ROM to help general practitioners hone their skills for dual diagnosis (co-existing mental health and substance abuse disorders). The educational tool was an Australian first.

‘‘I did a lot of work in developing resources locally and also nationally in delivering education across the country in dual diagnosis,’’ she reflects.

As a teenager and while at university, Dr Marshall played competition tennis at a high level, including representing the UOW at the Australian University Games.

‘‘Through high school I was very involved in athletics, touch football, and a range of different sports but tennis was the primary one,’’ she says. ‘‘I’ve been very active for a long time.’’

Dr Marshall is keen to get back into competitive sport after having a short break following the birth of her daughter.

Despite a busy lifestyle, Dr Marshall has always made moves to prioritise her health and well-being.

‘‘I certainly try and do exercise a number of times a week and I try and eat well most of the time,’’ she says. 

‘‘Work life balance is incredibly important in managing stress levels and your health, and remaining connected and engaged with family, friends and colleagues is part of well-being.’’ 

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