Making your luck

By Sara Donald

Image of Emma Patridge and her family

Speak to Emma Partridge (nee Green) (BSc ’94 MBBS ’98) and it’s not hard to see how she successfully combines a demanding career as a GP Registrar while bringing up four young children. Calm and composed, she makes you believe that it’s really not that hard to work full time, manage a household and enjoy a fulfilling relationship with one’s family.

Partridge’s path to medicine, however, was not so clear-cut. “When I finished school in 1989 I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” she explains. “I enjoyed science so I enrolled in a Science degree, studying maths, physics, biology and chemistry. The biochemistry and genetics subjects really interested me, so I did Honours in genetics in the School of Biology. By that stage I had been accepted into medicine so I combined my Honours year with my first year of medicine.”

Deciding to become a doctor became clearer for Partridge as she progressed in her Science degree. “I just felt that I couldn’t see myself going into research. I enjoyed the theory but I also enjoyed interacting with people – I just found the human side of things more interesting. So I tried quite hard in my third year of the science degree to do well and luckily I was successful,” she says.

Questioning how she coped with such a demanding study workload, Partridge agrees that it was “pretty full on”. However, the time required to spend swotting and doing practical assignments and experiments was made easier by living in at Women’s College – cutting down on commuting – “and I had a few less subjects because of my Science degree.”

Life on campus was not all work for Partridge. “I involved myself in sport, joining up with the gymnastics club. I had a great group of friends in the club and we competed together in inter-uni competitions. I had done a lot of gymnastics in primary school but my joints weren’t coping so I didn’t do much during my high school years. When I got to uni I rediscovered my love of gymnastics. Lots of the other universities didn’t have the facilities for gymnastics so it was great that Sydney Uni could provide a place where we could meet and enjoy our sport.”

Committing to a medical degree requires stamina, and Partridge sometimes found the study “pretty dry”. She adds: “At one stage I was reconsidering my decision to study medicine – had I made the wrong choice? I went to talk to Ann Sefton and she was very supportive. She advised me to finish the year and see how I went. In my fourth year I started going into hospitals and I remember thinking, ‘Yes, I do like this; this is what I want to do and was what I was hoping it would be like’.” Thoughtfully, Partridge adds: “I’m glad I stuck with it.”

Talking later to Emeritus Professor Sefton about her influence on Partridge’s academic career she says: “What a surprise!It’s always good to hear from former students.”

Explaining what she sees as her function, Sefton says: “My particular roles in the faculty throughout my time as a member of academic staff was to develop and implement teachingand to supervise students in research. My particular rolewas to be accessible so as to identify and support those students who were having difficulties.During the 1990s, when Emma was a student, the faculty was deeply engaged in planning and developing a new curriculum based on graduate entry. That entailed maintaining the ongoing existing curriculum and simultaneously planning and developing the new philosophies and strategies. It was a busy but exciting time.”

I loved walking down from my room to eat dinner – no preparation

Highlights of university life for Partridge were the “support and friendships of other people who I studied with (in Science and Medicine) and did gymnastics with”. Being so close to the medical buildings through living at Women’s College was also helpful for Partridge and living on campus also had its advantages: “I loved walking down from my room to eat dinner – no preparation,” she laughs.

On the personal front, life for Partridge was busy and full. “I got married to Matthew when I was in fifth year medicine. He was doing a Machine Learning PhD in the Department of Electrical Engineering so we were both spending a lot of time at university.”

Partridge gave birth to their first son, Zac, in 1998, after her final medical exams. “I took a year off and then I began my intern year full time. Thankfully, Matthew was only working two days and I had the support and help of my parents and Matthew’s parents to look after Zac. During my intern year I was pregnant with my second son, Harry. Royal North Shore Hospital, where I was doing my internship, was very supportive. I had to do some late night shifts and overtime but not any night shifts.”

With Zac (two and a half years old) and their second son, Harry only 12 weeks old, Partridge and her husband moved to Germany for Matthew’s work. “We lived in Berlin for six months, although we planned to stay much longer. It was a stimulating and interesting time in our lives.”

Back in Australia, Partridge started working in Emergency at Royal North Shore Hospital. Asking how she juggled two small boys and a challenging job, Partridge said that the hospital was “really good in helping me get shifts that suited me and I also had the support of grandparents to help with childcare”.

In 2003, Partridge’s third child, Abi, was born and in 2005 Partridge gave birth to their second daughter, Maya. Having four children meant that Partridge drastically reduced her workload to one shift a fortnight. “Mum helped a lot with the kids,” Partridge says. “She lived nearby which was fantastic.”

She admits that cutting her working hours had an effect on her confidence: “I wasn’t working much – things change so fast in the medical profession and I felt like I was just hanging in there.”
By 2008, Partridge had made the decision to work as a GP Registrar. Explaining how she manages four children and her full-time workload, Partridge says that her husband works from home, so he organises the school drop-offs and pick-ups; and the grandparents continue with their help and support.

Finding time to be involved with the Australian Breastfeeding Association has been a priority for Partridge. “I am not as involved as I used to be but I still volunteer as a counsellor for their 24-hour breastfeeding helpline. I do the overnight shift from 10pm to 6am once a month. The calls range from maybe one to up to eight a night. Night-time calls are different – they are mainly for emergencies such as women who are worried that they might have mastitis or they might have gastroenteritis – they question whether they should still keep feeding their baby. Some women ring up when they can’t attach the baby to feed and, by that stage, both the mum and the baby are quite distressed. Sometimes they have relatives ring up on their behalf. Women also ring up to ask questions about when they should stop breastfeeding.”

Partridge mentions that she breastfed Maya, her fourth child, for four years. “Breastfeeding is a personal choice.” she advocates. “I had been breastfeeding for about ten years and I enjoyed this special relationship with my children.” The outlook for Partridge involves, “working as a GP and spending time with my family. All my children are at school now so it’s a different time of my life,” she smiles. “I’m excited about the future.”