Access and equity key focus for new Clinical Lead

12 February 2021

A young Cathy Stephenson knew she wanted to make a difference in the world, and her new role as a College Clinical Lead will help her do just that!

“I am so excited to be able to play a part in shaping our next generation of general practitioners so they can continue to provide the best primary care to the people of New Zealand,” she says.

“It seems like we are in a time of opportunity, when we can look at how we can facilitate positive change to future-proof our approach to how young doctors are trained.

“GPs are experiencing new challenges and patient expectations that may not have been part of their learning when they began their career. It is important that we continue to review and reassess our training programmes to ensure they are ‘fit for purpose.’

 

As Clinical Lead, Cathy, together with her colleague Dr Susan Hawken, is responsible for looking at the College’s General Practice Education Programme from a clinical perspective, providing input to the education pathways available to give trainees the confidence and knowledge they need in a clinical setting.

She is particularly keen to ensure that the issues and challenges faced by certain groups, for example Māori, Pasifika, and gender diverse people, are included in the training to improve the quality and provision of primary care to such marginalised and minority communities.

“Cultural safety is a big issue at the moment and it’s an area I have a special interest in, so I am very excited about being involved in those discussions, and the rollout of a new curriculum that takes a more holistic approach to health care, with clear links to the Hauora Māori approach,” she says.

“Our training programme would be nothing without the awesome team of educators we have around the country and it really is an honour to be able to meet with them and talk about what they need to continue delivering such a high standard of training.”

Growing up on a farm in Yorkshire, England, Cathy’s hero was her GP uncle.

“He was the life and soul of the community and very much part of the fabric of the lives of his patients,” she says. “He made a huge impression on me and inspired me to go to Edinburgh Medical School.”

During her house officer years in the borders of Scotland, Cathy met a young Kiwi doctor who encouraged her to go to New Zealand, so she secured a one-year contract as a Senior House Officer in the emergency department of Wellington Hospital.

“I ended up staying at Wellington Hospital for four years in various roles, and my love for the country just grew,” she says. However, her dream of training to be a GP at her uncle’s practice saw her return to Oxford to gain her UK membership, and then work in primary care in some of the most deprived areas of London. This is where her older two children Finn, now 19 and Lily, 18, were born (Beth, 15, arrived later) and it was the desire for them to be closer to their Kiwi family that saw her return to Wellington for good in 2003.

Now married to James, she was a GP at Newtown Medical Centre for 11 years before moving to her current role at the Mauri Ora Student Health Service at Victoria University.

“It seems like we are in a time of opportunity, when we can look at how we can facilitate positive change to future-proof our approach to how young doctors are trained.

Alongside general practice, Cathy has many years experience as a forensic medical examiner working with victims of sexual and domestic violence as well as teaching at the Royal New Zealand Police College. She was also instrumental in the provision of the first primary care clinic for transgender people in Aotearoa, and has held several health sector governance roles.

Health promotion has always been a passion, and she has been a health and wellbeing columnist for Stuff for more than a decade, and may be recognised from her time as the doctor on the Good Morning programme.

One of her first priorities is to meet with the education teams in Taranaki, Manawatu, Wellington and South Island regions.

“Our training programme would be nothing without the awesome team of educators we have around the country and it really is an honour to be able to meet with them and talk about what they need to continue delivering such a high standard of training,” she says.

Cathy is already enjoying her role and is looking forward to the mahi to come.

“I really believe that health and wellbeing are so tightly interlinked that we need to inform, educate and make connections with people so we can deliver accessible, equitable health care to every New Zealander,” she says “I am looking forward to working with the team at the College so we can continue to produce

knowledgeable, compassionate, and skilled GPs that will serve all members of their communities well.”