Dr Rachel Melhem


Bridging compassion and expertise through a placement at headspace

In the bustling medical landscape of Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Dr Rachel Melhem splits her time as a GP registrar between headspace Glenroy and PVH Medical in Pascoe Vale.

Rachel’s story serves as an invitation to aspiring registrars to consider the rewarding experience of a placement at headspace.

Growing up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Rachel studied medicine at Deakin University where she completed placements in Geelong and across the south-western region. 

For Rachel, the decision to pursue medicine was not a sudden epiphany, but a culmination of influences.

A high school obsession with biology, a desire for a people-centric career, and a family which greatly valued education, all became her guiding forces.

“From what I knew about medicine, mainly just through TV shows and careers presentations, it seemed to combine all these things,” she said.

“I knew my chances of becoming a doctor were slim, but I didn’t want to regret not trying. So I gave it a shot, and ended up being one of the lucky ones.”

Navigating the challenging landscape of GP training, Rachel acknowledges the well-known issue of limited access to non-GP specialists.

“The lack of timely access to non-GP specialists is a well-known issue, however I’ve tried to use this as a learning opportunity to extend my knowledge, when there’s been time and available brain space,” she said.

“Like all training pathways, GP training has been challenging with a steep learning curve, decision fatigue and studying for exams, but it’s all worth it for the rewards.”

For Rachel, the allure of general practice lies in its versatility, calling it a ‘choose your own adventure’ specialty.

You can work in so many different settings, see a huge variety of presentations, and both prevent and treat,” she said.

“The most rewarding aspect for me is the big wins you get to be a part of.

“This could range from patients with eating disorders getting into remission, to early cancer detection, to making paper airplanes for a child and they don’t scream the next time they see you.”

Rachel identifies crucial character traits for a successful GP as being a good listener, adaptability, and effective boundary setting.

She emphasises the importance of actively listening to patients, adapting to unique cases, and setting boundaries for a more enjoyable work-life balance.

“A good listener is crucial. If a patient doesn’t feel heard, they won’t trust your plan,” she said.

Amidst her training challenges, Rachel recounts a pivotal moment with a patient who was wearing pink glittery sneakers – an interaction which confirmed she’d made the right career choice.

“It happened during the very first month of my internship,” she said.

“I was scared of the well-respected head of department; a man of few words who had a reputation for being critical and intimidating.

“One afternoon I was cannulating a lady who was wearing pink glittery sneakers, and we got talking about shoes and clothes.

“Once I finished, I was called into the head of department’s office for an urgent meeting. Naturally I panicked and was convinced I’d done something wrong.

“It turned out he’d overheard the conversation with pink glittery sneakers lady, and wanted to let me know he thought I was a good doctor and to never stop treating patients like humans.

“The conversation lasted less than a minute, but boosted me with a simple and important message.”

Rachel’s decision to do a placement at headspace was sealed at a registrar education day two months into GP training. 

A presentation on working at headspace and adolescent mental health captured her interest, aligning perfectly with her passion for adolescent health and the desire to work in a collaborative team environment.

“I was sold from that moment,” she said. “I had a strong interest in adolescent health and was keen to work in a team environment.”

For registrars considering a placement at headspace, Rachel extends a compelling invitation, highlighting the unique opportunities it offers:

  • Comprehensive learning: Everything you need to know about managing adolescent mental health conditions
  • Transferable skills: Skills applicable to adult mental health conditions, one of the most common GP presentations
  • Diverse exposure: In-depth exposure to physical health, including sexual and chronic conditions
  • High-quality supervision: Support from experienced and dedicated supervisors
  • Supportive team: A passionate and supportive team which ensures an enjoyable work environment
  • Patient-centric practice: Slower-paced medicine focused on high-impact healthcare, with a minimum appointment length of 30 minutes. 

“To those interested in adolescent mental health, headspace offers an environment where you can make a real impact, supported by a passionate team,” said Rachel.

In the next five to 10 years, Rachel envisions continuing her work at headspace and in traditional general practice.

With the hope of gaining more confidence through experience, she is also targeting diversified roles in the future, potentially exploring sexual health, management, public health medicine, or hospital work.

“I see myself continuing in these roles but hopefully with more confidence that five or more years of experience will bring,” she added.

Rachel’s journey is an intriguing one for any fellow registrars to explore a potential placement at headspace.

A place where compassion, expertise, and the opportunity to make a difference converge to help shape the future of adult mental health care.