A mindful mentor Dr Sarah Moore

09/03/2022 | 6 mins

GP obstetrician Dr Sarah Moore is marking 10 years as a Rural Clinical School of Western Australia (RCSWA) teacher in Busselton this year.

In fact, Dr Moore first started teaching at RCSWA Broome in 2010 while completing Advance Rural Skills in Aboriginal Health, before heading south to Busselton at the beginning of 2012 with her baby daughter and husband in tow.

As one of the School’s first alumni, RCSWA Kalgoorlie 2002, Dr Moore said it had been an honour and privilege to give back to the school over so many years.

I feel teaching is an opportunity to give back. I really appreciated my time as a student with RCSWA and it’s so obvious to me the experience the students have with us really does have an impact on their future careers.

Dr Sarah Moore

“It’s nice because I’m starting to see the students come back as junior doctors. I had a really beautiful moment recently when a 2015 student, who is now a registrar at Fiona Stanley Hospital, became my co-investigator on a research project.

“That’s really special because it shows the impact that I had when they came through as students, that we have been able to maintain that relationship,” she explained.

When reflecting on her own mentors as a medical student and GP Registrar, including GP obstetricians Dr Phil Reid and Dr Andrew Kirke, Dr Moore said she had tried to emulate their teaching style.

“I reflect on that teaching and mentoring a lot and try to emulate doctors who are obviously very good clinicians but also have the capacity to provide compassionate, whole-person care, not just for the woman but her whole family. They understand the context in which she lives in the community,” she said.

“It’s also that willingness to teach, to listen, to support, and to be available so that I can put my skills into practice and they are there if I need help.”

The RCSWA students themselves have also helped to shape Dr Moore’s teaching approach and perspectives of the student experience.

“One of the things I really love about teaching and mentoring is that students offer you different perspectives. The 2021 year were a diverse group and really taught me that the challenges people have to face during their training helps build their resilience,” she said.

“Part of the reason they succeeded was they really supported each other the whole way through. I was delighted and proud they overcame their personal challenges to really thrive.”

There is one experience however which Dr Moore considers a defining moment in her teaching career, when a student took their own life some years ago.  

“That was a hard time and I had to really reflect on what it meant to be a teacher of medical students. It is a high-risk population and I think one of the things I had to come to terms with was that there was nothing I could have done to prevent it,” she revealed.

“You think as doctors and as medical educators, that it is your job to keep people well. What I learnt from that experience is that sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you put into your students, sometimes that’s not enough. And that’s not your fault. That’s something I’ve had to learn the hard way.”

Dr Moore has since helped establish the RCSWA Wellbeing Committee of medical coordinators and administrators to support students through their learning.

“Part of it is trust and forming a rapport with the students. Not being judgemental and just really listening to them and what their challenges are.

“It’s really about identifying what is going well for them so we can continue to support that. Establishing if they have a strong, supportive family or partner, or a good psychologist and or GP, and making sure they’re tapping into those supports.

“Then academically, asking do we need to adjust extensions or assessments to help them get through and just take the pressure off a little bit.

“Then we help them put together a plan as to how they move forward. In terms of all the protective preventative behaviours, making sure they’re getting enough sleep, exercise, socialising, doing all of those things,” she explained.

Dr Moore is clear about her role being the students’ academic mentor, and not their personal doctor.

In mentoring, she naturally role models her own approach to health and wellbeing and shares her successful strategy in ‘mindfulness’. 

One thing I’ve been looking at a lot the past five years is mindfulness, using that as a strategy myself and helping students to identify their own strategies. They see that as a rural doctor and a rural medical educator, it is possible to have a healthy lifestyle and have healthy behaviours that can prevent burnout and depression.

Dr Sarah Moore

“I’m very grateful for my mindfulness practice and yoga… I feel like I have created habits and a lifestyle that is quite protective. That’s not to say I don’t experience stress and overwhelm at times, but I’ve invested a lot of time and energy in those things that will help me ride those waves.”

The practice of mindfulness in medical education is the focus of Dr Moore’s current PhD studies, wherein she is exploring the concept of whole-person care delivery.

Dr Sarah Moore

Image: Dr Sarah Moore presenting her mindfulness research project.

In her own GP practice, Dr Moore regularly refers patients to members of a Holistic Health Practitioners Network, a local group she helped establish in 2015 which now has more than 100 members.

“It’s become how I operate now and I think the patients and the community are very grateful for that. That was the whole reason we set it up, to build relationships within the community between practitioners,” she said.

“The awareness will continue to grow and if new practitioners come to town, they’re always invited to come along.”

The group meets up to five times per year and coordinates local wellness festivals and symposiums for professionals.

Dr Moore said it was great that RCSWA students were able to observe the benefits that patients received from holistic care.

“The students do a lot of case-based learning and we cover off on the different modalities that can help patients with various presentations and circumstances,” she said.

Whether or not students choose to return to the country to work as doctors, Dr Moore believes they maintain an appreciation for the conditions that rural patients and rural doctors experience.

“When we ring tertiary hospitals and specialists needing help and speak to someone who’s spent time in the country at RCSWA, we’re treated with respect. They respect the work that we do here, they have an understanding of the resources we have here, and the challenges we encounter to deliver care,” she said.

Every year the RCSWA ‘family’ grows by another 100 students, and another 100 become alumni.

“It’s amazing how often you meet a doctor at a hospital or at a training workshop who you have that RCSWA connection and bond with.

“Last year we had a couple of doctors from the 2016 year just knock on the office door and it was so lovely to see them.”

Lasting connections and learnings - for the students and their teacher.

Group of staff and students from RCSWA Busselton

Image: 2015 RCSWA Busselton students with Dr Sarah Moore.

Dr Moore has published her first paper as part of her PhD research in BMC Medical Education Journal.

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