A COUNTRY PRACTICE // Dr Jessica Hines
We chat with local GP and Bundanoon resident, Dr Hines about how she ended up in medicine and her work at Walker Street General Practice.
“I was always going to come back to the Highlands,” says Dr Jessica Hines, as we sit in her office at Walker Street General Practice, Bowral.
“I was born in Bowral, lived in Bundanoon most of my life and really enjoyed growing up in the Highlands. As soon as I could, I headed back home.”
Which is a lucky break for us Highlanders! Dr Jessica Hines is a quiet but knowledgeable presence in the Walker Street team with specialties in children’s health, skin cancer and dermatology. She is also one of the four doctors in the 7-strong team of doctors that take part in the nursing home visiting service they offer.
We chatted to Jess about how she got into medicine, why she chose the specialties she did and what she loves about living, working and providing an invaluable service to locals in the Southern Highlands.
1 // Did you choose medicine, or did it choose you?
I don’t remember a time I didn’t want to do medicine. There are pictures of me as a young child dressed up as a doctor. I remember pretending to listen to my grandparents heartbeats and ‘taking their blood pressure’. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.
When I was in high school, I really enjoyed science, chemistry, physics and enjoyed learning about how the body worked, so I applied to study medicine and have a Masters Degree in general medicine from the Australian National University in Canberra.
2 // What was it about the world of general practice that appealed to you?
I had a good GP growing up and always thought it was pretty remarkable what they were able to do. I was lucky enough to do work experience in high school with some local GP’s who really took me under their wings. I was lucky to have their support and that helped me decide that I would like to be a GP.
I always enjoy the flexibility being a GP gives me in allowing me to specialise in certain areas I’m passionate about such as skin cancer medicine, mental health, women’s and children’s health, chronic disease management and aged care.
3 // Tell us a bit more about those specialties. Let’s focus on skin cancer and children’s health.
When I was in med school, I was placed in a scholarship program that allowed me to do additional clinical placements. I did mine in a rural Queensland town called Lowood. Being Queensland, there was a lot of skin cancer and I got to see how skin cancer could be identified and treated by GP’s with specialist expertise in this area. When I was an intern, I worked with the plastics team at Canberra Hospital so was exposed to more ways of treating skin cancer – both of those elements really inspired me to specialise in skin cancer and I now have professional certification in General Dermatology and Skin Cancer Surgery.
As for children’s health, I did a rotation at the Centenary Women's and Children's Hospital in Canberra and completed my Diploma of Child Health through Sydney Children's Hospital. I had great consultants, supervisors and registrars working above me and learnt so much in that rotation.
4 // And you’re also one of the three doctors that visit local aged care facilities as part of the Walker Street Home and Aged Care Visit Program, is that right?
Yes, myself, Dr Ono, Dr Mags and Dr Pinkstone offer a service where we visit patients at aged care facilities. We do this because physical mobility is not what it used to be for many patients, and it becomes unsafe for them to navigate their way into Bowral to see us. Some of our residential care patients may have a moderate to severe dementia diagnosis, so a change in scenery and a move out of their regular routine can have a behavioural effect on them. It makes sense for us to go and see them where they’re comfortable.
We liaise directly with nursing staff, the aged care staff and families to make sure everyone is on the same page in regard to treatment, which is very important.
5 // What are you seeing as the biggest health challenges Highlanders are facing at the moment?
The mental health of locals has been impacted first by the bushfires and now by the global pandemic. The bushfires were very traumatic for many people and when you follow that with the isolation of lockdowns – it has added a lot of stress to people’s lives.
Many people don’t realise they are suffering from mental health issues and will come see us with symptoms such as fatigue, not sleeping, not feeling themselves.... we can help patients treat and manage their mental health, but also give them advice and referrals about which specialists to turn to in the area to help with their specific situation.
The important thing is to reach out if you’re not feeling yourself. We can absolutely help. You’re not alone.
6 // How would you describe Walker Street General Practice to somebody?
We all work as a team here and we’re proud of the fact there are enough doctors here so people can get an appointment easily and get in to see someone sooner rather than later. It doesn’t matter if it’s your regular doctor or not – we all work so well together, we’re confident we provide the same level of care to all patients.
I also love that this practice is small enough to feel like the family practices I grew up with (the ones that inspired me to become a GP in the first place). We’re not owned by a corporation – it’s a service that is absolutely patient focused. That’s reflected in everything all team members do on a daily basis.
7 // What do you love about living and working in the Highlands?
The community is definitely the difference here. I love walking down the main street of Bundanoon and chatting to people I know and saying hello to people I don’t! That doesn’t happen in the city.
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