Dr Dash Newington’s journey into medicine has taken her from the chill waters and red earth of Australia to the north of England, where she spends her days easing the pain of sick children.
It is a far cry from managing a McDonalds, where she first realized she wanted to do something bigger and made plans to start her journey into medicine.
Dash struggled at first. Though she had completed an undergraduate degree in social science by distance, and prepared for the GAMSAT with textbooks, she failed a section of the GAMSAT on her first attempt. The following year she sat it again and the University of Sydney took her on in a graduate-entry programme. It was an exciting, nerve-wracking time, having barely stepped onto a university campus before.
“I was fortunate enough to be offered a place at the Broken Hill School of Rural Health where I spent the first six months of my clinical years. My first clinical rotation was surgery, but I was much more interested in what the anaesthetist was doing and the magic of anaesthesia. I think there is something special about looking after people when they are at their most vulnerable.”
From there she spent more time in anaesthesia, taking on electives in it at Dubbo Base Hospital and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, often traveling to Bourke with the Outback Eye Service.
Her first year as an intern was in Orange, and from there she moved to Launceston, Tasmania, where she completed a resident year in critical care. Working in anaesthesia, ICU and night ward, she entered the anaesthetic training program. She was offered the choice of moving to Melbourne to study, but chose to stay with Launceston General Hospital. She went on to do her first two years of specialist training there, where she learned more about the human face of medicine.
“I was always interested in paediatric anesthesia – there is an art to getting children to sleep calmly and supporting their family, to be there at the same time. In most cases a parent comes the theatre whilst their child goes to sleep. Sometimes more effort is spent calming the parent than the child, but it is very rewarding when it’s done well.”
The two years passed and Dash moved to Brisbane for her advanced training where she focused on paediatric anaesthetic work, which she did at the Queensland Children’s Hospital, taking on roles as a registrar in paediatric intensive care and retrieval medicine. She would take part in helicopter retrievals to pick up child patients from regional areas in Queensland and New South Wales, and became familiar with the Brisbane skyline on the return flights.
Dash has since moved to the UK for her final year of training; paediatric cardiac anaesthesia, where she works in Newcastle at the only centre that conducts heart transplants for adults with congenital heart disease, and one of two nationally that perform the operation on children. When Dash completed her fellowship, she was invited to stay, and now works as a consultant in paediatric cardiac anaesthesia.
“One thing that is very different in the UK compared to Australia – and also very sad – is that in the UK I have not seen a single case of rheumatic heart disease. In Australia I was frequently involved in anaesthetising children – almost always Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children – who required open heart surgery to correct their rheumatic valvular disease. I hope to see this change in my lifetime.”
Working full-time in the United Kingdom, the differences between our systems is apparent.
“The healthcare facilities are less well-resourced in the UK and the healthcare system is not as efficient. However, there are brilliant people who do the best they can for their patients under the circumstances. Teaching is a big part of the NHS philosophy and I have been given many wonderful learning opportunities without having to seek them out myself.”
Hospital resourcing as well as the hidden costs of daily life in the UK can be a challenge for new doctors, and the 3pm sunsets of winter often have Dash thinking of home.
“I miss the smell of gum trees, the sound of cicadas in the evening, the melting tar of the road on a hot summer’s day and the flies buzzing around the dinner table on a BBQ night. I came over to the UK by myself and I dearly miss my family, friends and camaraderie I had back home, particularly during the Coronavirus lockdown period. Whenever I’m in London I try to get to the Strand so that I can see the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags flying high in the London sky outside of the Australian High Commission.”
Listening to Australian content helps Dash stay in touch, and she remains an active AIDA member.
“I have maintained my membership and visit the website frequently for news of my peers back home – much like I watch Australian TV programs on the internet, to hear the calming tone of an Australian accent. I was looking forward to the trip I was planning home in October 2020 for the AIDA symposium and celebrating the successes of all its members. The coronavirus has halted many of our plans but I’m looking forward to making it to the next symposium in 2021.”
Dash’s first AIDA Symposium in 2009, and in 2013 it was her turn to share a stage with the AIDA fellows as they received their painted stethoscopes. She went on to take part in a mentoring panel and deliver a workshop at the 2014 and 2018 symposiums, on top of her commitments with the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetist Indigenous Health committee. She said her interest in mentoring had grown, inspired partly by seasoned GP anaesthetist Uncle Louis Peachey and Paul Mills through ANZCA.
Dr Dash Newington at AIDA Symposium 2011
This cycle of support is part of what keeps Dash engaged, and she encouraged students considering medicine or specialty training to take care of themselves and stay connected with like-minded peers.
“Life as a medical student is difficult, and life as a doctor can be even harder. Often our social circle feels as though they are slipping away during this time and it can be a lonely journey. Getting onto specialty training programs is a huge hurdle and completing specialty training just as hard. It’s not a race. The road is often much windier than expected. However, the AIDA family are there for you all the way. Be kind to yourself and just as kind to your colleagues. Don’t put extra pressure on yourself – there is enough pressure on you already. And don’t feel pressured or judged into taking a career path that isn’t right for you and your family. Everyone’s circumstances are different and sometimes the most unlikely of choices will leave you feeling the most fulfilled and happy.”
Despite the distance, Dash’s connection to Country is strong, and her thoughts remain of home.
“It’s enough to make me question living on the other side of the world every day. But that connection is a part of me wherever I am. I know that Country will always be there waiting for me when I come home.”
AIDA is proud to advocate for its members, who often travel far and wide through their work and serve the wider community through their example. Wherever you are, we wish you all a very happy Christmas.