Dr Vijay Roach believes in a holistic approach to medicine, considering ‘mental health to be as critical to pregnancy care as any physical aspect’.
‘Perinatal anxiety and depression is not a condition that discriminates. It can affect any pregnant woman and the implications are profound. Mental healthcare in pregnancy is our responsibility’, he says in his most recent article in O&G Magazine.
Vijay’s passion for mental health arose when his wife, Cathie, suffered postnatal depression after the birth of their first son. Hoping to spare others from the same kind of damage caused by their experience, Cathie and Vijay became part of Gidget Foundation Australia, a not for profit organisation supporting the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents to ensure that those in need receive timely, appropriate and supportive care.
‘We need to change the culture in medicine to promote understanding of our patient, not only biologically, but also psycho-socially. Being an O&G is a serious job. You never really walk away from it and, as such, it carries enormous responsibilities.’
In this interview, we delve deeper into the views of RANZCOG’s new President, his take on leadership, and his plans for the future.
Why did you decide to study medicine?
Actually, I had always wanted to be a vet but in the last six months of my schooling I became convinced that, if I wanted to make a difference in the world, medicine would be the best vehicle to achieve this. My primary interest in medicine was based on the power of a doctor to help people.
What challenges does the career entail?
I didn’t realise how hard it was going to be or the demands my profession would place on my personal life; you miss out on time with your family and yourself. The other thing is that you never really relax because you are constantly on call; it’s not a job with set hours. Even if you’re on the other side of the world, you worry about your patients. Finally, there is a considerable emotional toll. I feel connected with my patients and their personal journey and it’s often hard to separate myself from both their joy and their suffering.
What makes it worthwhile?
I like people. Being an O&G gives you the opportunity to connect with women and their families in a sustained and meaningful way. Having a baby is a life-changing event. As a health provider, you’re given the enormous privilege of sharing a story that is intimate, deeply personal and, often, profound. Not all specialists have the opportunity to accompany their patients throughout their lives, but O&Gs often do. That’s the beauty of the job! The way I see it, there are two types of people: transactional and relational. I really struggle with transactional. Diagnosis and treatment seem to be insufficient. If I didn’t get to know my patients at a deeper level, my job would lose much of its meaning.
What would you like to achieve with your work?
I’m learning to understand that life has its phases. For many years, I’ve defined myself as a private O&G. Now, with the work I’ve done with RANZCOG, the Gidget Foundation and as a teacher, and my life experience as a husband, father and friend, my description can be broader than that. I am realising that there are other ways of defining oneself and pathways other than being a clinician. I am discovering the value of teaching and of being part of something bigger than yourself. That’s what I really look forward to as RANZCOG’s President; to learn about the broad spectrum of women’s healthcare and to help build the bigger picture.
Tell me more about your experience of leadership within the College. What attracted you to getting involved?
I wouldn’t define myself as an ambitious person. I never really wanted to be President or Chairman. You arrive at those places because of the work that you do. My work with RANZCOG began when Professor Ian Fraser, then RANZCOG President asked me to become Chairman of the NSW Training and Accreditation Committee, a position that I held for nine years. After that, I thought I was done with the College, but then was elected to the Council and then to the Board. I really enjoyed my time on the Board, working with fantastic fellow Board members and two excellent Presidents, Professors Michael Permezel and Steve Robson. In the end, I think that leadership is a verb: it is service. Being of service is the job of the leader.
What can we expect from your Presidency?
The College doesn’t need a visionary. We need to recognise and consolidate our many achievements. We’ve had remarkable leadership! That being said, I’d like to propagate a culture within the College that is supportive of our entire membership and staff. The role of the College is to serve the membership, women and society as a whole. I’d like us to make the College a place where members and staff feel valued. In other matters, I think it’s important that we engender a sense of connection and build better global relationships in our own region; not only with people in Australia and New Zealand, but also with our neighbours in the Pacific and Asia.
How do we start addressing these matters?
Conversations. The way we change the world is by having a conversation with the person right in front of you. I think we’re missing out on a lot if we don’t have different others in the ‘inner circle’. That philosophy encompasses many things, from championing gender equality, including SIMGs in the work of the College, listening to, involving and supporting trainees and speaking up about important social issues.. It’s about changing the culture into a more inclusive and equitable one.
About Vijay Roach
Dr Vijay Roach is an obstetrician and gynaecologist in private practice at North Shore Private Hospital and the Mater Hospital. His public practice is at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. He is a lecturer at the University of Sydney. Vijay has been married to Cathie for 28 years and together they have five children. He took office as President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) in November 2018.