Celebrating rural women
The crucial role women play in improving rural wellbeing is being increasingly recognised.
This International Day of Rural Women (October 15), Rural Doctors Foundation spoke with Dr Sue Masel about the important role women play in rural communities.
Dr Sue is the current Rural Doctors Foundation Secretary. She is looked to as a leader in rural health.
Becoming a leader
For the last 25 years, Dr Sue has lived and worked in a rural town. She has contributed more than 20 years to state and national rural health bodies as well as rural medical training.
Dr Sue is one of five partners who run the Goondiwindi Medical Centre. Three are women. She is also Medical Superintendent of Goondiwindi Hospital within Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service.
For Dr Sue, becoming a leader has been the result of experience and natural progress.
“When you arrive ready to be a rural doctor, you get a few years into practice, and you find your feet. You get 10 years into practice, and you think, ‘Oh, I really enjoy this. I’m better and better understanding what it is I’m here to do’,” she said.
“Before you realise, you haven’t sought it, but people are looking to you as a leader.
“You come to realise that by dint of your attitude and experiences you are a role model for others. I suppose that, in the end, sparks an interest in taking a more active role.”
Equality is key
Dr Sue has always believed in the importance of a level playing field. “I come from an upbringing and a relationship with my husband (Dr Matt Masel) where it has always been considered that it’s equal work, equal pay, equal responsibility, and equal ability to contribute. It’s never been gender based for me,” she said.
“I didn’t ever see myself as any different from a male studying medicine. And, I didn’t see why I should.”
She said her experience as a woman in rural Australia had been largely positive.
“There are a lot of really strong women across the rural sector. Women who are farmers in their own right. Women who are executives of their own significant businesses,” she said.
“I’m sure there are pockets where women are still underrepresented but in rural communities, women are part of the DNA.
“Matt and I have had opportunities to talk with primary care doctors from around the world at WONCA (World Organisation of Family Doctors) conferences in Paris, Mexico, Phillipines and India over the years.
“You really come to appreciate the vast differences in how female doctors are treated, mentored and encouraged or not to practice their profession in other countries.
“It’s through that broadening of experience you come to reflect on your own experience and realise it was something special.”
Women encouraging women
Dr Sue said there was strength in women building one another up.
“Something I appreciate about living in a rural town is there are deliberate attempts to bring together woman from all parts of the community,” she said.
“There’s a group who run a women’s breakfast a couple of times a year. At a recent celebration of International Women’s Day, the panel included a senior lawyer, a senior accountant, me, a psychologist and a really well known and successful female farmer.
“You don’t think you’re mentoring actively, but by being involved in such initiatives, it is where ideas get shared and are grown. I’ve seen that be really successful here in Goondiwindi.”