October 25, 2019

Wanda Stelmach: What were you doing in the 80’s?

In the lead up to this year’s 80’s themed Northern Health Foundation Dinner, we sat down with Divisional Director of Surgery, Wanda Stelmach, to find out what she was doing in the 80’s! Read her story below. To purchase your tickets to the Dinner, please click here.

1980’s was a decade of firsts for me!

I went from being a medical student in a short coat to junior doctor in a long coat!

I went from paying Uni fees of around $300 to being paid an income! However, the hours facing residents in the 80’s were horrible with 36 hour (overnight and the following day), 60 hour (two overnights and the following day) and the ‘best’ shift started on Saturday morning and continued through Sunday, Monday to Tuesday 5 pm – 84 hours on-site – that’s why we had Resident’s Quarters.

And then you came back on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and continued your 12 hour shifts. A fortnight of 180 hours that was legally rostered and by the 1980’s, paid for! In the previous decades, rosters did not recognise on-going shifts through the night and you only got paid for 8 hour days although you worked the hours above!

Residents were a tight bunch in those days because we lived in the hospital so much of our time. The nurses (mainly young and female) lived in the nurses home which was strictly off-limits to the young and predominantly male doctors…but that didn’t stop the shenanigans, even though Matron patrolled the premises. Parties were wild especially around the pool in summer on Friday nights.

I fully paid for my first overseas holiday – Thailand! I fell in love with a country that was so exotic by Australian standards and represented so much freedom to a Polish girl whose parents still exercised control over their children! My love of Thailand led me to adopt my son and daughter in later years.

I bought and paid for my first car burgundy Holden Gemini 5 speed with manual choke. May need to explain that to the young ones!

I fell in love, got engaged and got married that decade. Our friends from around the world sent us their best wishes by telegrams – before emails, SMS and other platforms.

The bride and bridesmaids wore puffy sleeves to the wedding as one did. Thank goodness we didn’t go with the puffy hair! But it was all there in best 1980’s style at my 10 year school reunion – oversize jackets, oversize shoulder pads and oversize hair! Effie/Mary Coustas from Acropolis Now reigned!

Going from zero dollars to big bucks, I bought my first house with a startling mortgage interest rate of 17.5%.

Even though I was the breadwinner and my husband the law student, I had to bring him along to the bank interview, as the bank manager did not believe that a woman should be given a loan without male support…Don’t get me started!

My first country rotation was internship in surgery in Wangaratta– I fell in love with surgery and never gave medicine a chance. I also developed an appreciation of wineries and good wines which I could now afford.

I sat my entry exams in surgery toward the end of that decade and my surgical career was set when I passed the exams. Haven’t looked back, but did have to deal with surgeons, hospital staff and patients who believed that a female surgeon is an anachronism and a woman would never be as good as a man! Today’s world still has some of these perceptions but with #LookLikeASurgeon, attitudes are changing!

And all this was to the music of Eye of the Tiger, Like a Virgin, Another One Bites the Dust, Wake Me up Before you Go-Go, Flashdance, Papa Don’t Preach, Bette Davis Eyes, Karma Chameleon and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls just want to have fun! And I did!