Dr Sarah Coll is by any standards a trail blazer in the field of surgery. She was one of the first female orthopaedic surgeons in a traditionally male dominated profession, and is the only female orthopod in North Queensland. She is a pioneer in the field of minimally invasive key hole surgery, a vocal member of the AMA, a passionate advocate for health and the president of the North Queensland Lady Doctors Association. She also has to look after two children, and a husband. She is a busy person, so it has been a challenge trying to arrange an interview. As luck would have it, we were both heading to Cairns airport at about the same time. Some gentle negotiations were required before Dr Coll, agreed to talk to me at the Qantas lounge between flights.
After some introductory niceties over a white wine, I asked her why she decided to become and orthopod. “Well I don’t think I did. It ‘s a long story”. We had about twenty minutes to our flights, so I was hoping not too long. She told me of her happy existence in Perth, studying science at university and her plans to marry the man of her dreams and live the life of a doting wife. Then the unthinkable happened. “Yep, he dumped me. So I had to come up with a career plan B pronto”.
She was torn between doing law and medicine, something I could relate to. She chose medicine. “I don’t know why to be honest, I just got the grades I guess”. Her father was also a doctor, but never tried to steer her towards medicine.
“My dad’s advice at the time was to not do orthopedics, because it was too heavy going for woman”
Tragically, her father would pass away fro aspergillosus during her internship year. “This was when I did a term as an orthopaedic intern. I had no interest in it whatsoever. My dad’s advice at the time was to never do orthopedics because it was too heavy going for a woman. At the time, I tended to agree with him”.
When her father passed away, she decided to accept a position on the other side of Australia- Cairns. “I don’t really know why”, she said, which seemed to be becoming a recurring pattern. When she arrived she had two choices,- an orthopaedic residency, or a position in a respiratory ward. “Well I didn’t want to hear a lot of people coughing. I had had enough of that with dad” , she joked, but I imagined at the time that it would have been still very painful.
“So I took the orthopaedics term. It was only meant to be for a few months. Then my registrar got appendicitis, followed by meningitis” I let out an involuntary and inappropriate laugh. Even to a psychiatrist a string of misfortune can be funny, if it is happening to someone else. “So they asked me to be the registrar, and that is how I got into orthopedics”
That was when the boarding call came over the speaker. “So do you have any advice for any young girls wanting to follow their dreams”. She hurriedly grabbed her bag.. “No, Not really…besides, I don’t think I ever followed my dreams, I think they followed me”.