Dr Rebekah Hoffman


Dip your toes into academia

ACADEMICS has always been a keen interest for Dr Rebekah Hoffman—fitting well with her work as a GP and her role as a mother to two children.

“I had both of my kids during general practice training, and some days it was easy, and some days it was really, really hard,” Rebekah says.

“There was no real evidence anywhere and it was really difficult to find out information about what supports there were.”

It was these hard days which sparked Rebekah’s interest in researching the evidence behind parenting while working in medicine, starting with a systematic review.

“I planned on having a look at if we need anymore information about parenting in medicine, if we need more supports, if there are any barriers, and then what can be done about them.”

Rebekah discovered that the challenges faced by those in the dual roles of GP trainee and parent came down to time and balance.

“[GP training] doesn’t really accommodate for how rapidly things can change in parenting and how one day things can be going well, and the next day they can be a disaster.”

According to Rebekah, more flexibility is needed to get parents back into work and engaging with their general practice training sooner—a direction which is supported by key general practice training stakeholders, including GPRA.

Considering an academic term?

During her general practice training, Rebekah completed an academic term, as part of her extended skills term, researching junior doctor burnout.

Rebekah’s advice for GP trainees considering an academic term is practical—because of the selection process, applications for academic terms open earlier than other rotations—approach universities, ask questions and apply early.

“All of the different universities offer slightly different experiences…they’ll have suggested topics that you might be interested in researching, but don’t be afraid to approach them with your own research topics.” 

According to Rebekah, the time to dip your toes into academia is during one’s training years.

“GP trainees are given a unique opportunity to experience academia—it is a paid position which, after Fellowship, you’re often trying to do it unfunded or unpaid.”

“Apply for a position and have a go, because it’s an opportunity you may not get again.”

An academic term also sees GP trainees back in the university halls—Rebekah enjoyed shaping the future careers of medical students and influencing their perceptions of general practice.

“You really got to know the students and you got to know their strengths and their weaknesses.”

“You get to teach students what clinical skills were, what clinical reasoning is, as well as
the medical science and the skills behind
being a doctor.”

The bushfire response

In the summer of 2019/20, Rebekah found herself caring for those affected by the bushfires out of her clinical practice in Mittagong, NSW.

Mittagong was evacuated three times; the fires came as close as ten kilometres both to the north and the south of the town.

Leading up to the bushfire season, Rebekah was prepared to manage the common presentations of those affected by bushfires—including acute smoke inhalation, asthma, the exacerbation of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, hay fever, and allergies.

Mental health concerns rise during bushfire season—with general practice on the front line. 

“It wasn’t until the bushfires were literally on our doorstep that the mental health concerns really happened…I was quite surprised about how much mental health that I’ve seen in the Southern Highlands since the bushfires, and ongoing.”

“There were so many people that were evacuated and just didn’t know whether or not their house was still standing, or didn’t know what had happened to their pets. They had loved ones that they didn’t know that they were safe, if they’d been separated from them.”

“I think there was just such a period of unknown and also being told by the Rural Fire Service that this wasn’t the end, that it was still going to play out for another couple of weeks.”

“People literally didn’t know what their next steps were, what was going to happen, where they should go.”

The aftershocks of the bushfires will be felt for a long time; often, the mental wounds take longer to heal than the physical wounds.

As a GP, Rebekah is well-placed to support patients.

“I always offer a safe place for patients to talk about their fears and their concerns and their worries, and then we can develop strategies and techniques in the future.”

“I always offer a safe place for patients to talk about their fears and their concerns and their worries, and then we can develop strategies and techniques in the future.”

Women in leadership

As the New Fellow representative on the RACGP NSW Board, Rebekah is passionate about influencing change and having more female leaders in medicine.

“I don’t want to be a passive person who complains about something and doesn’t do anything. I’ve always been of the mind that if I want something done, I should just be doing it myself.”

Gender, motherhood medicine, and having more female leaders in all levels of medical training and medicine are Rebekah’s current areas of focus.

“One of the biggest challenges for [women in medicine] is child rearing—when to child rear, how to child rear—people often assume that because you’re having a child that you’re going to be working less frequently or less interested in leadership opportunities.”

Rebekah would like to see women make up at least 30 to 40 per cent of boards and faculties in general practice.

“I think that what needs to happen is mentoring, networking, and support. Often, women aren’t very good at putting their hand up and saying, ‘This is actually a role I’m really interested in’ or, ‘This is something I can really see myself doing’.”

According to Rebekah, there needs to be more women tapped on the shoulder for leadership roles.

“We need to show women that they can do it and it is a really nice way to be involved and stay involved and drive the community.”

The numbers are changing in a positive direction, but more work is still needed.

“I think a lot of change is just about being family-friendly…having meetings where childcare is available, or teleconferencing available so a woman can breastfeed or care for the baby during the meeting, or not scheduling meetings over dinner or bathing time.”

Mittagong banner photo thanks to visitnsw.com