By JOHN DOOLEY
WHEN the Mildura Base Public Hospital returned to public administration last month, the day marked the start of the next stage in new Chief Medical Officer, Dr Louise Litten’s journey.
Dr Litten had held a similar role in the Northern Territory at the Katherine Hospital before coming to Mildura.
New Zealand-born, Dr Litten completed her medical degree at Otago University in Dunedin, before moving to Tasmania, where she practised as a GP for a number of years, before moving to mainland Australia to take up an outback posting in the territory.
“About 10 years ago we decided that we would have a family adventure and moved to the Northern Territory,” Dr Litten said.
“When we left Tasmania it had to be a big leap, I had originally left New Zealand with the intention of seeing the world!
“We had two young boys and we felt it would be a good lifestyle for them up there. I took a job as a remote GP in a little town called Timber Creek, which is on the border between Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where I was responsible for a very large area, but not many people. It involved a lot of travelling around to the communities most of which were indigenous.”
Dr Litten said that after a time in the remote region, she and her family decided to move to the ‘big smoke’ – Katherine.
“Compared to where we had lived it was a big place and from there I continued to fly in and out to those same communities,” she said.
“The communities that I was working in were probably among some of Australia’s most disadvantaged and have complex health problems and often limited health resources.
“In that situation you become adept at finding doctors and building up something from nothing effectively, and I think it has given me a good background and enhances me in my role here in Mildura.”
Dr Litten then decided it was time for another change and she applied for a position at the Katherine Hospital.
“Shortly after I arrived, the director of medical services left the hospital and their position became vacant and I took up that role – it was a case of someone had to do it and I was there and so it turned out to be me,” she said.
“I was in that role for seven years and found that I really enjoyed the administration side of the job.
“I’m definitely not a city person and so when it came time to leave Katherine, I was looking for a role that wasn’t too big or too small and Mildura fitted the bill.”
Dr Litten said that her work was totally administrative-based and she no longer carried out a hands-on medical role.
“It’s a bit of a challenge for a doctor in this role, because as a doctor, your mindset is very much focused on the patient and their needs, whereas as the chief medical officer, you are looking at a broader picture and what’s best for everybody,” she said.
“It takes a little bit of a transition to change the way you think and look at things. However that’s what I like. I like the fact that the things that I do make a difference to health across thousands of people, rather than a few.”
Dr Litten said that while it was business as usual at the Mildura Base in many respects, there were some items that she was prioritising.
“There is always a list of things that you need to have right and I guess the most important thing at the top of the list is ensuring the services you provide are safe and effective and they are the best that they can be,” she said.
“You may look across the hospital as a whole and say there are some areas we may need to change the way we structure something or we may need some extra staff.”
Dr Litten said that all hospitals were having to cope with COVID-19, which had added an extra dimension to the safety protocols normally in place.
“Across the country all hospitals have found it the same, in that you need to do everything you were doing, plus add in a raft of other measures,” she said.
“The interesting thing is that there are a lot of procedures that have come out of this situation which we will retain going forward.”
Dr Litten said her first impressions of the Mildura Base were very positive.
“I was immediately impressed by the base and its people,” she said.
“It’s a complex organism – there are so many different people doing different things – and in terms of where we are and we are going, I think there are a lot of great things happening which may not be visible to people and there is great potential to build on that – it is quite an exciting time to be here.”
Dr Litten said she was enjoying living in Mildura and as her two children were at boarding school in Adelaide these days, she was closer to them now.
“I am really enjoying Mildura and I’m glad I made the choice to come here,” she said.
“It is exactly what I wanted in terms of size as a city and I find the convenience factor a big plus. On top of that you have nice weather a lovely river – it just seems to tick every box.”