Growing up in Botswana, Kelly Champane’s desire to be a doctor was more than just a career choice. It was also a deeply personal and political aspiration.
“When I was growing up, my country was hard hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said the GP registrar, who is now based in the regional Victorian city of Bendigo.
“I went through a stage where I saw so many people die, from friends to family members to young kids.
“I had a best friend who died at the age of 11 from AIDS – she was born with HIV. She was an orphan, her parents died a couple of years prior and she was raised by her grandma.
“I guess that growing up in that era, I just wanted to do something that would help… I knew that I wanted to be a doctor to try and help my country.”
Ten years ago there was no medical school in Botswana, and the only pre-med course accepted just 60 students per year.
“I pretty much just gave it 110% all through primary and high school and senior school,” Kelly said.
Kelly was accepted to and completed pre-med at the University of Botswana, then came to Australia to pursue her medical degree in 2010.
Like many medical students and pre-vocational doctors, she agonised over which specialty to choose.
Her gut had always told her to do general practice, but as she went through her studies and
hospital residency, doubts started to creep in.
“[Medicine] is such a competitive world, so sometimes saying you want to be a GP can be
looked at as though it was some sort of lack of ambition,” Kelly said.
“I think that was one of the things that made me hesitate because I was thinking ‘I’m ambitious, I’m driven’.”
A lack of exposure to GPs contributed to this myth.
“As a med student, you feel like you have a lot of role models in other specialties, not so much in GP land.”
“[During my residency] I had a supervisor who was an emergency physician and everything seemed so exciting, I looked up to him and thought he was amazing in all his work.
“So I thought ‘okay, this is what I want to be.’
“I think in retrospect I looked up to him as a role model, it was not so much the work itself.”
A solo trip around South East Asia gave Kelly the clarity she needed, and the courage to trust her original inclination towards general practice.
“As cliche as it sounds, I always tell people I found myself on that trip,” she said with a laugh.
“I had time to think and really introspect on who I really am, and I what I really want out of my life.
“I know that I want a more balanced life at the end. I want to look back when I’m 70 and know that I have lived.
“I knew that I wanted to start a family and actually have time for them, and do other things outside medicine, like public health.”
Kelly realised general practice takes no less ambition than any other specialty, just a different skillset.
“I thought ‘you know what, I really like the holistic approach to patient care, I know I’m a people person’, and for me it’s not just about the disease, it’s about the person.
“This is in no way a lack of ambition. This is a certain specialty which is for a certain type of people, and I am one of those people.”
Kelly began her GP training in 2017, and now works at Bendigo Primary Care Centre in Central Victoria.
In 2018 she will be taking up an academic GP registrar position, working part-time at Neal Street Medical Centre in Gisborne and part-time as an associate lecturer and researcher at the University of Melbourne’s Department of General Practice.
When GPRA spoke to her in late 2017, she was studying for the KFP and AKT exams in February.
“It’s not easy, to be honest, because we work full-time,” Kelly said.
“GP work is exhausting in itself in that it’s constant, you’re constantly talking to people throughout the day. By the time you get home you are just absolutely drained, so to sit down and study, it’s really not easy.”
As a member of the Australian National Committee for UN Women and an ambassador for African education charity One Girl, Kelly’s outlook is global.
“Both Botswana and Australia have given me so much – Botswana in terms of investing in my education, and Australia in equipping me with an excellent medical skillset and world-class education,” she said.
“It’s only morally right for me to contribute in both countries.”
She plans for her clinical work to be a part-time occupation, and is also studying a Masters of Public Health with the view to start her own medical clinic and health organisation one day.
And long-term? “Venturing into leadership in my country, the Ministry of Health… or the president!”