Hervey Bay Hospital Anaesthetist, Doctor Debbie van Niekerk.
Hervey Bay Hospital Anaesthetist, Doctor Debbie van Niekerk. Valerie Horton

Top doc's advice to dream big

A CHILDHOOD dream to become a doctor has brought Debbie van Niekerk all the way from South Africa to become one of two female anaesthetists on the Fraser Coast.

From the age of 10, Dr van Niekerk, 39, wanted to be a paediatrician, but after realising that would leave her little time for her family, she moved into anaesthetics.

"I think anaesthetics is one of the specialties where you get more family, work, life balance,” she said.

"Especially in the private sector, you're able to decide what list you want to work and in the public sector, it's slightly more restricted because you've got set working hours.”

Dr van Niekerk said while she was surprised there was only one other female anaesthetist on the Coast, women in specialty medicine was becoming more common.

"The head of our anaesthetics department in South Africa was a female,” she said.

"She was one of the few ladies who were allowed to study medicine and I think things really have changed.

"It used to be a completely male dominated field in medicine, never mind the specialties, I think the specialties was even worse and that certainly has changed a lot.”

She said in the past patients had made comment about her gender, but it was an unusual occurrence.

"I have had a few patients say to me in the clinic, 'oh I thought you would have been a bit older', or 'I wasn't expecting to see a lady', but not very often,” she said.

"I think it's becoming more common that women are in the medical profession.”

As one who "never takes a back seat”, Dr van Niekerk said women in medical school should do the best they can.

"Give it all you can and be the best that you can and it'll get you far,” she said.

"Don't ever put yourself down.”

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