Luckily for Waitaki Valley locals, GP Natasha Sinclair (known to her patients as Dr Sharp) was better at sciences than Japanese at school. She talks to Ashley Smyth about what brought her and the family to Kurow, and what she loves about her job.
Q Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background and your previous work experience.
I was born in Invercargill, but grew up mainly in Balclutha. I went to boarding school in Dunedin and then Otago University. After I graduated, I worked at Invercargill hospital for several years, across most of the departments there, but spent my longest time in paediatrics and in the emergency department. I loved both of these specialties. When I changed to general practice I worked in Gore, Methven and now Kurow.
Q What made you want to be a doctor or, more specifically, a GP?
Now, this isn’t the answer you are probably expecting, but basically how I ended up in medical school was the fact I was failing my Japanese class miserably, so I decided to do a last-minute switch of subjects. The only options left were science classes or art, and I’m worse at art than Japanese, so ended up taking all the science subjects in NCEA.
My parents are both teachers, so I always grew up valuing education and wanting to go to university, so when having a look at the career options, health sciences seemed like a fit. Then I had my heart set on being a doctor, so really knuckled down in that first year to get into medical school. Thankfully, now my reasons for wanting to be a doctor are different — I have a strong passion for working with vulnerable people and trying to play a part in improving some of the inequities we have in New Zealand. I also love building relationships with people and learning their stories. Being a rural GP is a perfect position to do all of these things and, well, I also married a farmer and wanted a family, so that took away some options too.
Q Why Kurow? How long have you been there?
My family moved here just over two years ago. My husband is a sheep/beef farmer so all of our moves have been moving to a new job for him. We absolutely love the Waitaki Valley now and can’t imagine moving any time soon. My parents live in Palmerston now, so it is great being a bit closer to them too.
Q What do you like about being a rural GP? What are the challenges?
There are so many things I love. The job involves such a variety of different people and presentations. From a medical point of view it’s absolutely fascinating what you see and the work you get to do, and you actually would not get that in any other specialty. We also do PRIME cover which involves supporting our St John colleagues and providing 24-hour care to our patients, which adds another interesting aspect. The main thing I love, though, is the people. Small communities have such a sense of heart in them that you just don’t get in the city.
It can be very hard living and working in a small community. At medical school you learn about the ethical dilemmas of having patients as friends, but there is no way around it in a small community, and that’s something you kind of just have to work out as you go. Also living rurally and both of us working full-time is a real challenge on working out how to do simple things, like when to get groceries.
Q Tell us about your family. How are they enjoying life in Kurow? How do you find the juggle?
My husband and I have three children — 5-year-old twins William and Briar, and a nearly 2-year-old Isabella. The twins have just started at Waitaki Valley School and absolutely love it. Bella attends Waitaki Valley Preschool, and equally loves it there.
The juggle is a struggle. When I sat my specialist GP exams, the twins were 2, and it really seems like life has been chaotic from then on. The saying ‘it takes a village’ is really relatable, and we have a lot of people to thank for helping along the way — particularly our parents.
My husband is very hands-on with the kids, and thankfully we both work for people who are very understanding and accommodating. Since we are both working in careers, it’s crucial that we both share the load of parenting.
Q What are your interests outside of work? (If you have time for anything else!)
I love spending time with my family and all our animals. Living in the Waitaki Valley means there are so many adventures to be had without travelling far.
Going to the lake as a family, with our dogs Mila and Bruce, over summer, is definitely a favourite. I also enjoy spending time with all our pet animals — much to my husband’s dismay, we seem to have accumulated a few over the years, including a small mob of sheep, who have travelled everywhere with us.
I think it really is important for working mums to try and have good balance, otherwise burnout can be a real issue. Spending time with friends and making time for myself is essential for me.