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Clare Skinner

From budding journalist to medical care equity advocate

11 October 2022
Doctor and college president making large leaps for emergency care
Dr Clare Skinner knew it was time for a career change when she found herself stuck on the sidelines. Now, she’s the president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, an emergency care clinician, and a voice for patients and medical professionals everywhere.
Clare Skinner

Dr Clare Skinner

Medicine was not on Dr Clare Skinner’s radar when she graduated with a combined arts and science degree and started her working life as a trainee journalist. It was only when she got involved in the Thredbo landslide media coverage that her interest in the medical field was “crystallised”, which kickstarted a transformational career shift to emergency medicine. Now she’s an educator, emergency clinician, advocate for health equity, and one of the Top 50 Public Sector Women in NSW (2018).

Along with working in the Emergency Department (ED), she’s also the president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM), a not-for-profit organisation responsible for training emergency physicians and maintaining professional standards in emergency medicine across both Australia and New Zealand.

Yet Skinner says the big career titles are not what makes her job the best in the world, it’s all about the people. “Some of the most satisfying moments I've had in my career are literally just meeting real people in the emergency department and forging an intimate relationship with them very quickly, and being able to provide them with good clinical care,” she says.

I've had all these lovely big events - parliamentary inquiries, healthcare summits, meeting ministers and visiting hospitals, talks, and media, but deep down what drives me is that very real connection with patients I meet in the emergency department.

From news to a new start

Wearing many hats early on seemed to turn out well for Skinner, as her “interest in everything” led to a training position at a major newspaper. But it didn’t take Skinner too long to realise that journalism was a hat that didn’t quite fit.

“The role just didn't suit me. I just felt like I was watching and not doing. I found the rhythms and the culture really difficult.”

After Thredbo, Skinner propelled herself into further study, this time in a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at the University of Sydney. When she graduated, she worked as a junior medical officer at The Canberra Hospital, and later was magnetised back to the University of Sydney to take on a Master of Public Health.

Skinner says the time she spent immersing herself in locums at emergency departments while she studied led her to consider emergency care.

“I had some really scary times, but also some really rewarding encounters and decided that, in terms of my clinical experience, emergency medicine suited me the best,” she recalls. “I fiddled around a bit and explored a few other things and came to discover that a good day working in emergency medicine is the best day in the world. I look back now and realise it was the obvious career choice for me.”

She’s now working clinically in the emergency department of Hornsby Hospital, where she builds lasting relationships with the locals, and keeps connected to her community and colleagues.

Advocating for a better healthcare system

From COVID-19 to complex health inequities, the healthcare system has seen its fair share of pressure. Now more than ever, Skinner is called upon to represent professionals and patients struggling under the strain.

“Emergency departments are facing so many challenges at the moment. We're seeing very high numbers of people presenting to emergency departments and the medical and social problems they come in with are really complicated,” she implores. “We need politicians to work with clinicians, as well as the people who need medical care, to actually design a system that's fit for purpose for the complex care needs that the community has today.”

Doing her part as an advocate is not only imperative, it’s rewarding. “I get to meet people delivering frontline emergency care all over Australia and in Aotearoa New Zealand. And I can hopefully drive some important changes to make emergency medicine training more accessible, more inclusive and improve trainee experiences,” she says. “It's also making sure that the clinical care that's provided to real people in emergency departments is compassionate, high quality, accessible and affordable.”

She hopes the current state of the healthcare system doesn’t deter aspiring health professionals. “Don't be frightened of the current pressures, because a lot of us are working very hard to create better working conditions and also to make sure that emergency departments are safer for patients and healthcare workers,” she reassures.

If you're interested in emergency medicine, don't think it's out of reach. Don't think it's too scary. Don't judge yourself by what other people are doing. Just work out where you can be yourself, what drives you, and what feeds your soul. The rest will fall into place.