Like many teenagers who decide they want to study Medicine, Dr Jan Tomlinson loved the idea of being able to save a stranger’s life if they suddenly collapsed in a public place.
And while Jan finds that original motivation a little embarrassing today, much to her surprise it actually happened, twice.
The first time was 22 years ago, when Jan took her children to the Adelaide Christmas Pageant. The drum major in a marching band had a massive heart attack and collapsed right in front of her. Jan resuscitated the man and kept him alive until the ambulance arrived, and later found out he survived.
Then, more recently, a young women riding a horse at an event Jan was volunteering at was stung by a bee and suffered acute anaphylactic shock. Jan intervened and, to her relief, the young woman also survived.
As an orthopaedic surgeon, Jan’s work day-to-day is less dramatic, but often has a profound impact on the quality of life of her patients. It’s these life-changing outcomes that Jan finds most rewarding about what she does.
“I love seeing people, particularly those suffering terribly with arthritis, come back after a joint replacement,” she says.
“They are crippled, they can’t walk, they can’t sleep properly, and they come back dancing.
“I recently had a lady who was only in her early 60s and was in an aged care facility because she had two arthritic hips and she was bed-bound, she couldn’t move. She had two hip replacements and now she doesn’t need that care anymore and is back out living in the community.”
Orthopaedics was an easy choice for Jan. She was always sporty, which leads to a knowledge of sports injuries, and as a young person she enjoyed fixing things, making things, and taking things apart.
“Orthopaedics came because of my connection to the sporting world. People come in broken and we put them back together.”
Jan is still an active sports person, and is able to apply her knowledge of Orthopaedics and sports injuries to herself, perhaps more regularly than she would like. She’s run five marathons, and pulled up with stress fractures in her legs and hips after every one. She’s not deterred though, and plans to run the Boston Marathon next year with her brother and sister.
Jan lives in the Adelaide Hills, and has her rooms in Stirling. She loves the connection that gives her to her local community.
“I know my patients. They are in the shopping centres. I treat their mothers, fathers, grandparents.
“Because I’m in Stirling I also get a lot of people from the South East coming to see me, because they don’t want to go all the way into the city.”
Jan says being empathetic and having good communication skills is critical to being a successful Orthopaedic surgeon.
“You need to listen to your patients and care for your patients. You have to work out what they want – not everyone wants a hip replacement.
“You must always do your best for them and be technically capable, and not try to do procedures you can’t do. You must know your limits and be kind to you patients.”
As someone who lives in the Hills and serves a regional community, Jan loves the community nature of North Eastern.
“I don’t operate at big hospitals. North Eastern is a lot like a country hospital, in that it’s a smaller community hospital. It’s nicer for patients and the care is more personalised.”