Dr Phil Smith

DoctorDr Phil Smith
LocationNamatanai New Ireland

Expect the unexpected

Dr Phil Smith arrived at Namatanai Hospital in July 2013, accompanied by his wife Elizabeth and three young daughters aged 7, 5 and 3. 

“I am no stranger to the problems of delivering health care in remote and rural areas and working with staff in a cross-cultural setting.”

Phil has decades of experience working in remote and Indigenous Australia, and advanced qualifications in family planning, obstetrics and gynaecology, and public health.

How did you become interested in health in PNG?

I became interested in PNG health after doing my medical student elective period at Alotau Hospital in Milne Bay Province. That was 13 years ago and ever since I have wanted to return for a longer stint. However, the requirements of postgraduate training and a young family kept me in the UK and Australia except for short visits. Now my family is a little older it seems like the ideal time to spend a year or two back in PNG.

What are your motivations for volunteering with ADI?

I like ADI’s focus on primary health care in PNG. In particular I think their plan to assist in the development of a district level hospital is very worthy and sensible. I like that after I leave Namatanai, ADI will continue to work with the local stakeholders, giving the project potential for real long-term improvements in health care and outcomes.

How hard was it to convince your wife Elizabeth and three daughters to accompany you?

Elizabeth is a multi-talented, stoic lady. Born and raised on a remote island off the north coast of Scotland, followed by four years in the Torres Strait ad Arnhem Land, she is well used to remote living. Given the well-known problems in the PNG health system , Elizabeth didn’t need any persuading that our work together in New Ireland would be meaningful and help improve the lives of people living there

What were your daughters’ first impressions of PNG?

Having already spent years in Indigenous Australia, the kids didn’t really turn a hair on landing in New Ireland. It took them less than 24 hours to start making friends and within a week they were shrieking around the back garden with their new friends

What you hope to achieve from your posting?

Namatanai district has a large population and a disproportionately small health service. If I can work with the local staff to expand the service and improve health outcomes I will be happy. Part of my work is in procedural obstetrics so I have a natural interest in maternity care. I would love to see coordinated, functional maternity service in the region including family planning, a working operating theatre, blood transfusion service and closer cooperation with the rural maternity units.

What are your strengths as a doctor?

My background in remote and rural healthcare has been excellent preparation for working in PNG. I am no stranger to the problems of delivering health care and working with staff in a cross-cultural setting. As a generalist I am able to contribute to all clinical areas of the hospital from inpatient care to emergencies , paediatrics, obstetrics, anaesthetics, X-ray and laboratory services. I also have higher training in public health that helps me to see things in the context of the bigger picture