Dr Armi Aganan works at the Albert Street Medical Centre in Taree. Armi’s background growing up in the Philippines and her adventurous spirit have seen her experience a variety of medical roles – some of which she relates to us here.
When did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?
When I was younger, I really wanted to be in the Defence Force. I like the action … the adventure. I think it was also an influence from my dad, who was an Army Officer.
But then I found out that they do require a certain height in order to be qualified, so I decided I’d become a doctor, then apply later on for the military. My applying to the Defence Force didn’t push through, because I was advised I would be a noncombatant and it wasn’t a good career move.
When my dad suddenly died due to an Asthma attack, I was there with him in the emergency room, and the way they managed him was etched into my mind. I vowed right there and then that I would treat my patients as if they’re my own relative, in the way I would like my loved ones to be treated.
Please share a little bit about your background growing up in the Philippines.
I am the eldest of 5 girls. My mum worked as a public school teacher, and my dad was an Army officer. My dad passed away a few months after my debut – and I always joke about me being my dad’s favourite daughter … after all, he was my first dance … he left us when I was just 18 years old, and my youngest sister was in primary school.
It was very unexpected and traumatic for the whole family. I had to step up to a big responsibility the day my dad died – it was a role he strongly reiterated to me when he was still alive. I was just in my third year nursing course when it all happened.
We were drained emotionally, mentally and financially. I remember I had to break my piggy bank just to distribute coins to my sisters … I couldn’t afford to buy myself a new pair of shoes and I had to keep wearing the same pair … even though they were already very old and water came in every time I walked into the flooded streets.
When did you decide to move to Australia?
I first arrived here during World Youth Day in 2008. I have colleagues who had been working here for years, who used to drop by to visit me in Singapore (while I was working there). They all advised me to try working in Australia.
I guess what contributed to my decision to work here is the way I got to know and like the attitudes of Australians when I worked with Leighton Construction and Lafayette Mining Company as a site emergency physician … they were very friendly and down-to earth people who treated everyone equally and had a fantastic sense of humour.
What are some of the hospitals/roles you’ve worked in?
Hunter New England Health was my first employer, and I worked at the Emergency Department of Maitland District Hospital for two years as Senior Resident Medical Officer, after which I transferred to John Hunter Hospital and did rotations at Belmont District Hospital and Port Macquarie Base Hospital as ED Registrar.
What was your experience like working with the John Hunter Hospital Emergency Registrar Rotation Program?
I always say that Emergency Medicine is my first love. This was reinforced more when I finished the Emergency Medicine Residency Program in the University of the Philippines-PhilippineGeneral Hospital and started working in the different emergency rooms at some public and private hospitals … and even at Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore. I always like the adrenaline rush, the always on the go, never-a-boring-shift mood … the sense of urgency and the art of prioritising are always there and never fail to amaze and excite me. In casualty, you learn to work as a team … you learn to respect all the staff, both medical and non-medical alike, because you know each plays an important and unique role. You learn your strengths and weaknesses … and this makes you a better doctor and a better person.
One of the most memorable experiences I had was in JHH. The radiology, wardsmen, some nurses and doctors back then had this pizza bonding time, where we gathered orders for pizzas for dinner (the more we ordered, the more free garlic bread and soft drinks we received).
On this evening, it didn’t happen, because the X-ray guy decided he didn’t want pizza. Then one of my good friends, who worked as a wardsman, started to complain of central chest heaviness. He informed the nurse, and he was immediately sent to the resus bed and an EKG taken. The nurse then approached me and told me about the complaint. So I went to the resus bay, very surprised to find out it was my friend who was the patient. The initial EKG was unremarkable, but then whilst I was taking history and putting in a cannula, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this significant, very alarming change in the cardiac monitor. Right in front of me, he started to become pale and very sweaty, with the pain becoming unbearable.
Luckily, the ED consultant and the rest of the team were so efficient, he was up to the cath lab after a few minutes, where they found out that he had 99% blockage in his heart. A stent was put in, and he recovered fully after that.
He paid me a surprise visit in Harrington recently … I was so happy to see him that day. It put a smile on my face and made me realise that my stay in JHH may have been for a short while, but the friendships I made will last a lifetime.
These days, you work at the Albert Street Medical Centre in Taree. When did you start there, and what does your job involve?
I joined the practice last July, in 2012. Working as a GP is very different. Now, I’m at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I deal more with prevention and chronic illnesses.There’s a lot of paperwork. I get to do nursing home visits and house calls. You tend to become more involved with the community and whatever is available in the health care system. You still work as a team, often liaising with other specialists and a wide variety of health support groups, who are very cooperative and helpful in so many ways.
How often do you travel overseas to conduct charitable medical work?
The organisation I joined is the Philippine Australian Medical Association. We do yearly medical and surgical missions in the Philippines.The first one I attended was last year, and there is another one due for June this year. I enjoyed working with my colleagues during the mission, and it’s always fulfilling and satisfying to go back to where you came from and be of service to your own countrymen.
It made me realise that living in this country is indeed a privilege and reminds me time and again to appreciate all the blessings and grace my family and I have received from God and to be thankful to Him each and every day.
I am also a member of a sorority group called PhiloMedica Scientia in the Philippines. It is an all-female medical group that develops this strong bond of sisterhood starting with our medical schooling. During those early years of studying medicine, we were involved passionately in doing charitable medical and surgical missions throughout the year and also in having toy runs, gift giving and World AIDS Day concerts.
What are your future goals and plans?
I intend to be a successful rural emergency GP. I have plans of settling down for good around the Port Stephens area in 2015.
This article can be found in issue 74 of Manning-Great Lakes