“It’s really strange to think how different my life may have been – as a teenager I was very close to going down the path of musical theatre!
I never really loved studying at school, and I didn’t think I was smart enough to do the so-called ‘hard’ subjects. I had a change of heart after year 12, though, when that dream about being a doctor that I’d had as a little girl came rushing back. It was hard to get into medicine because I had missed the intake, so I started studying science and then got accepted to medicine after my first year. From then on, I was always going to be a surgeon and I absolutely adore my job.
I’ll never forget one of the first transplant patients I looked after who had a lung transplant. A few days after his surgery, I asked how he was and he said, ‘you have no idea how good it feels to breathe.’ I was sold right then and there.
I hadn’t necessarily planned on being a heart surgeon but when I did a rotation as a junior doctor, I loved it so much I never left.
As for my ‘second job’ as I call it (writing, TV, and so on), that was never on the cards! That started as writing for me and then kept snowballing and now I’m two books in. Having that platform has allowed me to speak up about issues that are important to me and to breakdown stereotypes about women in surgery. Occasionally, I’ve gotten letters or messages from young girls who tell me that they saw me on TV and now they want to be a surgeon too or from women who recognised the symptoms of a heart attack and got checked out. That is just priceless to me.
I honestly cannot explain how wonderful it is to be able to impact people’s lives – to care for them, to help them, and some days, we can say that we saved a person’s life.
I love doing those big, life-saving surgeries: heart and lung transplants, complex aortic surgery. They can be so rewarding and when you get to tell the family at the end that everything went well, it’s absolutely brilliant. I am also fortunate enough to work with some incredible people and our team is so important and talented. I think it goes without saying that the bad days can be unbelievably bad: losing a patient never stops hurting any less but, in those moments, I just feel so much for that family. A few times, I’ve cried with them because I would give just about anything to take away their pain. I know that my job is kind of unique like that, not many people see those massive highs and incredible lows in the same way I do. I’m so grateful for people’s trust in me and I do my best and then some to make sure never to break that trust.
On a day to day basis, I keep my makeup pretty simple, especially if I’m operating otherwise all my pretty makeup will wind up on the inside of my mask.
I love playing around with makeup, although, to be honest, I don’t go all out with it very often. I’m a big fan of the Hourglass holiday palettes (Ed. note: currently unavailable – these palettes are released each Christmas), which contain their Ambient Lighting Powder, Bronzer, and two Blushes. I love the colours, the fact that it is super portable (and so great to travel with), and that it’s cruelty-free. I am also obsessed with Charlotte Tilbury’s Pillow Talk Superstar Lips lipstick, it’s the perfect shade and I tend to buy a couple at a time because if I ever lost it or ran out, I’d be pretty upset.
I need quick, easy but effective products that work but won’t upset my sensitive skin. A complicated, expensive routine will never be something I’ll be able to keep up!
My amazing friend Dr Anh Nguyen, who is a plastic surgeon, has a fabulous range of skincare which I use. I particularly love her Purifying Active Cleanser and her Luxe Hydrating Cream, and I use these twice a day. In the morning I add in the middle her Nutri Day Serum and at night I use the Vital Refine Night Serum. Her medispa also does the most amazing facial treatments.
Ageing is a privilege, which is so important to remember, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to try and retain some of the benefits of youth as I get older.
I have no problems with however people want to do that, although for me, I want getting older to be about what I’m achieving in my life more than what I look like. That being said, sunscreen is my best friend. If you could do only one thing for your skin now and in the future, using sunscreen would be it. I use the Ultra Violette sunscreen range and the IT Cosmetics CC Cream, because they both have high SPF protection and I never go without that.
My mum used to be a flight attendant back in the golden days of flying so she taught me some great tricks for what to do in a pinch, like using lipstick as blush. And she refused to let me get a perm when I was about 11, which turned out to be an excellent move.
Even without a perm, my hair can be hard to take care of – it’s fine but there is a lot of it, so when I get it coloured, it’s a bit of a mission. The team at Lee Preston Hairdressing has been looking after my hair for years and knows how to tame it. I always wear my hair back at work, and on operating days, it’s tied back under one of my many bright scrub hats. I’m not too bad at styling my own hair, and if I have time I like to blow dry and curl it to feel really put together. I bought a Dyson hairdryer a few years ago and it was a great investment, because even in a mad rush I can sort my hair out. I also really like the Oribe Gold Lust Nourishing Hair Oil to tame any little frizzies.
At work, I like to look feminine but professional. In the past, I’ve copped a bit of flack for being ‘too feminine’ for a surgeon but honestly, I do not care. If I feel good and appropriate and can do my job, that’s all I need.
Dresses are my go-to work wear on days when I’m not operating. They’re a quick and easy way for me to get ready in the morning, and I like the idea of still feeling and looking like a woman in a male-dominated space. I tend to buy Australian and from local stores as much as I can. I’m a huge fan of Scanlan Theodore, Camilla and Marc and Zimmermann, then I’ll supplement those with basics from high street brands.
Outside of work, I wear a lot of activewear and at the moment, I’m loving Nimble Activewear. Meg & Wally in West Leederville do some wonderful casual clothes that I adore. I tend to wear a lot of black and white or blues because it’s easy and classic, which is a habit I think I picked up from my mum. If I’m heading out for the night, I love to dress up an outfit by throwing on some statement earrings, like the ones Keiko Uno makes locally in WA – they’re so beautiful and unique.
I love playing with makeup and hair – I think it’s fun, and I feel good when I do it. And I’m not ashamed of or embarrassed by that!
At the same time, I know that beauty standards for women can be a hinderance to our wellbeing. I think seeing those standards broaden and change to be more inclusive is so key to reducing the pressure of trying to attain an ideal that is unattainable for so many. I also wish we didn’t equate beauty with health so much; it’s such an erroneous assumption, and one which can lead to dangerous dieting and body image issues, and away from the health that we think we’re chasing. I really explored that notion in my second book, Pretty Unhealthy. Honestly, that pursuit of looking beautiful rather than pursuing looking (or being) healthy is just fraught, and it often compromises our health and wellbeing, instead of helping it.
I don’t get bogged down in toning this or reducing that – exercise and eating well is not about appearance for me. I value my health first and foremost. I take care of my body to keep it healthy, to be strong, to see what it can do.
I love watching my body get stronger and learn new skills. I love how it can stand at an operating table for hours on end. Having that motivation means that it’s a lot easier to maintain my exercise routine, because I’m doing it for reasons that are deeply personal and deeply important to me. Exercise really forms the cornerstone of my approach to health; without it, everything else – sleep, nutrition, mood – starts to fall apart.
I’ve been doing CrossFit for nearly a year now and I absolutely love it. I really enjoy it, as both a way of getting stronger and for the sense of community.
I train at Inner City CrossFit in West Perth, and it’s great turning up in the mornings and seeing my friends and the wonderful coaches there. It’s such a supportive and empowering place. I usually train five days a week there, and then run and swim one or two days a week.
When my alarm goes off I don’t always want to get up, especially in winter, but most of the time I’m an early bird and love starting my day with a sweat. I generally exercise in the mornings before work, mostly because it’s when I have the time, but also, by the end of the day, it’s less likely to happen, as I might be working late or just exhausted. After exercise is done, it’s time to do the rest of my morning prep. I always have to read the news and my emails (and check social media!) just to catch up with what’s going on in the world. Then after that, it’s a quick shower, quick makeup, and getting on with my day.
I am a fiercely loyal person. There really isn’t much I wouldn’t do for the people I care about.
My parents instilled in my brother and me the values of commitment and hard work, and that’s truly been the backbone of a lot of what I do. I think it’s given rise to a ‘never say die’ attitude, because I know that when my back is against the wall, I am at my best.
It takes a long time to train as a surgeon – first there’s medical school, and then usually you train for about ten years, on average. It’s insanely hard at times. I’ve had jobs where I was working up to 100 hours a week, even after having just been sent interstate, away from family and friends. It was incredibly isolating. On top of all that work, we had a lot of study to do, and big exams all throughout training, and were of course shouldering the huge responsibilities of taking care of our patients. I look back on that time now and I’ve got no idea how I just managed to keep pushing through the extreme tiredness and pressures. There were a couple of times when I wanted to quit but I couldn’t; I’m too determined and I’ve always loved my job too much.
I think it’s easy to look at someone’s life online or their CV or list of achievements and think that they have it all together and everything is amazing for them, but that’s rarely the case.
People don’t usually share their failures which is totally understandable, but we should all know that everyone has them. I know that for me, my career or even my life for example, has not been this consistent upward trajectory. Maybe it looks like that at times, but trust me, I’ve stumbled and failed just as much as the next person.
I definitely consider myself a Perth girl at heart. The beach is in my blood – my dad taught my brother and me to surf and swim at a really young age.
I think that’s reflected in how I spend my leisure time – outdoors, being active, preferably by the water. I am so terrible at relaxing! I’m one of those people that is always on the go. That being said, I know that if I don’t at least attempt to wind down, eventually, it will catch up with me, so I try to make an effort at switching off. Sometimes, I’ll literally do nothing and catch up on some Netflix. The one thing that really soothes my soul though is playing music. At the very minimum, I’ll listen to some tunes on a walk but if I can, getting out the old sheet music and really singing is just so good for me.”