Physicianaries: Dr Jeffrey Sia

This week's Physicianary is Dr Jeffrey Sia (you also argue he could appear in our "Doctorpreneurs" series too!).

Jeffrey has just gained his FRACGP (Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practice) after spending over two years working in remote Australia.

He has combined his clinical work with "a vision of improving healthcare by combining knowledge in medicine with technology, to put healthcare in the forefront of the IoT revolution". This has included working in healthtech startups and making investments in the sector.

What specialty in Medicine, if any, did you choose? Why?

Both my parents are GPs in Malaysia and when I was very young, they opened their own GP practice in Johor Bahru. As they were just starting out, we often had to live in the clinic and before they were able to save money to afford our own home, we shared one with three families.

As a result, I spent a lot of time in the clinic with my parents, was always exposed to medicine and developed an interest in it. On the other hand, ever since I was a young boy in Malaysia, I have always had a natural interest in computers and technology. I am very lucky to have parents that encouraged that curiosity even though we did not have a lot of money when I was growing up. I remember mum taking to hardware and electrical shops where local tradies would go so that I can buy random wires and light bulbs so that I can construct my own circuits.

When I finished medical school in Newcastle Australia, I wanted to find a way to merge medicine with technology and use it to find a way to help people with mental health issues. This is reflected in the path that I have chosen so far. After completing internship and residency, I worked as a Psychiatry Registrar before running a health tech startup. Now I have obtained Fellowship with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners which gives me the most flexibility to build a career that includes mental health, family medicine and technology.

Name the Doctor that has been most inspiring or had the most impact on your career?

The honest but not so exciting answer is my mum and dad, Dr Yeap and Dr Sia. I would not be who I am today without them encouraging, supporting and at times telling me off.

They run a very humble general practice in Johor Bahru, they do not make national or international headlines, they do not have patents to their name, but their local community will tell you what difference they have made in their health and lives.

Every time I go home, whenever we go out to a restaurant or a shop, you would hear someone shout out, "Dr Sia! How are you!"..."Dr Sia, thanks for looking after my mum"..."Dr Yeap, thanks for that skin preparation you recommended". Some would say my parents are local heroes.

Who is your favourite fictional Doctor character? (TV, movies, cartoons etc)

This is not a question that I have had to reflect on before. Perhaps Dr Robert Bruce Banner? He may look weak at first glance but do not piss him off!

What has been the most impactful part of your career so far, remote work in the NT or working in healthtech?

I think they both further emphasise the importance of leveraging technology in healthcare. My work in healthtech showed me how much healthcare has to catch up in terms of technology for patient care.

It is strange because you would be in an operating theatre where the surgeon could be operating with a robot but then the junior doctor in the next room is writing letters and faxing it off while responding to his or her pager. Patient has access to all the information in the world with their pocket supercomputers, but most could not show you their recent discharge summary or immunisation status.

My work in remote Central Australia involved either driving or flying hundreds of kilometres to remote communities to provide healthcare. Often times, I would be the only doctor in a radius of several hundred kilometres. The closest X-ray machine or path lab would also be a few hundred kilometres away. Day to day medicine that we often take for granted in metropolitan areas becomes so much harder out there.

You see technology in action at times out there, for example, we have satellite connection to Alice Springs Emergency to get urgent help if needed. The doctors based in Alice Springs can guide us by using this special camera on the roof of our local treatment room.

Working both in the most dense area of Australia and the more remote parts of Australia has confirmed that no matter where you are, technology plays a role in helping us get healthier.

If there was one superpower you think a Doctor needed the most right now, what would it be?

I think we need more medical doctors with the super power that Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson has, which is the ability to educate and increase science literacy. Dr Tyson has an amazing ability to distil very complex astrophysical and science theories so that anyone could understand.

I personally believe that my job as a medical professionals is to educate our patients to make the best choice they can for themselves. This could be through any medium, online videos, podcasts, or one on one consultations.

Medical school and fellowship training is tough to say the least but we would have failed our patients if we are unable to convey our knowledge in a simple manner to empower them to make better decisions.

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