Careers Mental Health

Career Profile – Dr Laura Smith


Dr Laura Smith



How did you get to where you are?

I’ve been an Adelaide girl most of my life. I grew up there and completed medical school straight after school at Adelaide University and then internship at The Royal Adelaide Hospital. I always had an inkling that Psychiatry would be the field for me but took a year after my internship to suss out some other options. I found I kept coming back to Psychiatry and applied to the college to start training in my third post graduate year. Three years in and I was tempted to make the move north for a lifestyle change and to try something new; see how another service ran, learn about a different Mental Health Act and increase my exposure to areas such as Indigenous mental health. I finished my training in Cairns over the next three years and transitioned into a consultant role in the Cairns Mental Health Unit in February 2018.

What do you like about your role?

I love that I get to spend my time talking to people and finding out about them. Humans by nature are relational beings so the fact that I get to connect with people on a regular basis in a way that ultimately improves their quality of life makes me feel incredibly lucky. I like working on the Mental Health Unit for a variety of reasons. It’s a busy job, but it’s satisfying. We see people improve over a relatively short period of time with a combination of psychotherapeutic interventions and pharmacological interventions which is rewarding. Every day is different so it’s a job that never gets mundane. It’s also a very social job; working within a multidisciplinary team as well as having a great medical team to support me. There are lots of opportunities for on-the-job teaching and mentoring and we can be flexible with our schedule which always allows time for coffee!

What are the challenges?

One of the biggest challenges for me is working with patients who lack insight into their illness. It’s important to still try to develop rapport and work with them to achieve shared goals but usually the patient’s idea of how to get there conflicts with that of the treating team. It is a difficult thing when someone isn’t capable of making their own decisions about treatment and we are required to use the Mental Health Act to take that responsibility and make decisions that they are not always happy about. While we are always seeking to work collaboratively, unfortunately this isn’t always an easy task.

Personal life

In medicine these days it is impressed on us how important a healthy work-life balance is though sometimes it seems like a phrase that is thrown around without much conviction that we can achieve it. In psychiatry I think it is particularly important to have a way of decompressing. The days can be quite emotionally draining at times. Earlier in 2019 I reduced my hours from full time to 0.9 to make sure I always have enough down time.

Living in Cairns affords such a great lifestyle. There are so many outdoor activities to enjoy. I particularly like hiking, kayaking, and even just a walk down the Esplanade. I’ve recently gotten back into painting and playing the saxophone. There are always lots of social events to enjoy and I love spending time with friends. I’ve always enjoyed travel and make sure I plan a couple of holidays throughout the year.

What would be some tips for a junior doctor on how to get into a training program?

Usually the suggestion is that interns take another post graduate year, or at least 6 months, before applying. The rationale behind that is to improve your general medical knowledge and get a bit more life experience generally.

Make sure you let key people know you are interested – the director of training and psychiatrist who is organising recruitment.

In Queensland the process is a little different to some of the other states – the application to the college is separate to the application to the training post. You need to apply to both separately.

Research is not a requirement to get into the program but always looks great on a CV.

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