Articles and Case Studies

A Member Profile: Dr Catherine Engelke

03 Jun 2014

Nerissa Ferrie

by Ms Nerissa Ferrie

Stethoscope heart

The life of a doctor can be incredibly rewarding, but also very isolating if you don’t master the art of staying connected. Dr Catherine Engelke employs this concept in every facet of her life including family, work and culture.

Growing up among the Kija people, Catherine’s early primary school education, although idyllic, was far from mainstream. Catherine recalls being called “dumb” for not meeting the standard testing criteria applied to her age group, and this false belief stayed with her for many years.

Recognising the importance of a good education, Catherine’s parents sent their children to a boarding school in Perth. At age 11, Catherine was separated from her “big, close family” in Halls Creek. “I understood why I was there, but I remember feeling homesick and just wanting to go home,” she recalls.

Catherine excelled academically and obtained her Nursing Degree, followed by a Graduate Degree in Community Health and Development and a Post Graduate Diploma in Clinical Midwifery. After working in Perth and the Kimberley, Catherine took up a three-month contract developing the WA Aboriginal Health Plan. It was here that she met Dr David Atkinson, the man she credits with reigniting her desire to study medicine.

The suggestion forced Catherine to confront her long-held belief that she wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor. She had always wanted to study medicine, and the encouragement she received from Dr Atkinson was enough to prompt her to raise the prospect with her husband, Jim, who was incredibly supportive of her dream.

Already a mother to two small children, it was a big decision to relocate the family to Perth – but with the support of her family and the School of Indigenous Studies, Catherine graduated from UWA in 2008.

Catherine was grateful for the peace and quiet of Shenton House and the opportunity to spend time with the other Indigenous mature age students who were also dealing with the guilt of leaving young children at home and not being able to contribute financially to the family budget.

She candidly acknowledges, “If I had realised how hard it was going to be, I may not have done it.” Catherine is clearly proud to be a role model for her children. “How could I tell them to follow their dreams if I didn’t follow mine?” she said.

It wasn’t long before the Engelke family returned to their cultural and spiritual home. With her focus now firmly on providing excellent medical care in the remote Kimberly region, Catherine was surprised and delighted to be invited by the RACGP to attend the GP12 on the Gold Coast as the GP Registrar of the Year for 2012.

The recognition Catherine has received from her peers and the College has made the sacrifice and hard work worthwhile.

Employment Essentials, General Practice


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