28/01/2010 - 00:00

Healthy interest in balanced outcomes

28/01/2010 - 00:00


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In most professions being a woman at the top is a rare occurrence, but it seems medicine is different.

Healthy interest in balanced outcomes

In most professions being a woman at the top is a rare occurrence, but it seems medicine is different.

For two years until mid-2009, Rosanna Capolingua was at the height of her career, taking on the presidency of the Australian Medical Association and doing it with a great deal more profile than most of her predecessors.

Yet, despite almost daily media coverage, Dr Capolingua still had to muscle herself onto a very crowded stage occupied by other famous Western Australian female medical professionals, Fiona Stanley and Fiona Wood, who have both held the title of Australian of the Year this decade.

The former AMA president agrees that medicine appears to have been a more female-friendly career path than other professions.

Dr Capolingua speculates that the reason for this may be the high level of professional ethics required as well as the structure of the sector.

“There is a lot of variety and hopefully a lot of flexibility,” she said.

Dr Capolingua has had an extraordinary career by anyone’s standards, maintaining a role as a general practitioner throughout a decade of key roles in state and federal versions of the doctors’ industry body.

She claims that discrimination has never been a concern to her.

“I have never let issues of discrimination about being female or Western Australian worry me,” she said.

“If you get on with the job people will respect you, it is about your performance.”

However, Dr Capolingua acknowledges, at least from a geographic point of view, that to be the equal of someone based in Sydney or Melbourne, a leader based in Perth has to work much harder.

“The media was not ringing them at 4 o’clock in the morning.”

She said overcoming this issue was about organisation and planning.

Clearly those skills helped her raise a family in parallel with her career. Her children have started to leave home, but she is proud that she was able to drop off and pick up her kids during the first phase of their schooling and make her career fit around those hours.

“You have to be able to live with yourself,” Dr Capolingua said.

In addition, she relied on regular exercise and found she was good at finding moments of peace.

“You have to find space in your head,” she said.

“You can stand out in the sun or take time in a coffee shop, you have to allow yourself space, you have to be responsive to what your body and mind are telling you.”

Dr Capolingua admits she thoroughly enjoyed the high-profile role the AMA presidency attained during her reign, a period when she virtually became a household name.

She said that was quite deliberate in an effort to ensure the credibility of the AMA.

“You put a lot of effort in and you engage and make yourself available. If you are across the issues people will turn to you for comment on a broad range of subjects relating to health.”

The GP said she was driven by a burning curiosity and passion for justice. The AMA role was about achieving the best outcomes for doctors and patients on a fair and equitable manner. And Dr Capolingua believes her achievement in the role was representing both the profession and its patients, not a select portion of them.

However, they were busy times and she is enjoying a slightly slower pace.

Life after the presidency is not just more hours in the surgery but also a growing number of corporate roles.

She is on the council of specialist insurer MDA National and has an executive role as director of general practice liaison at St John of God Hospital in Subiaco. The high-profile doctor recently stepped down from the board of Mercycare and has recently been appointed as chair of the Healthway board, taking over from hockey gold medallist Jenn Morris.



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