Dr Helen Gibbons is an experienced general practitioner with Balmain Village Health. Dr Gibbons loves getting out into nature with walks, bike rides and ocean swims. Her interest in medicine was sparked at a young age, listening to her grandfather’s stories of his experiences as a country GP and army medic. She has additional training in paediatrics, contraception and menopause management, and women’s health is a particular area of interest.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Dr Helen Gibbons. I work at Balmain Village Health as a GP and I am a long-time local of the Inner West. I love to get out and about in Sydney experiencing things like ocean swimming and hiking and am also very lucky to have amazing family and friends in this beautiful city. I try to fit in a hiking or cycling adventure in a far-flung corner of the earth every year or so if I am not visiting family in various countries.
What inspired you to become a GP?
I have had a love of medicine for as long as I can remember. Even as a small child I would listen in fascination to the stories my grandfather told from his time as a country GP near Yass and before that as a young medic on the Kokoda Track, rehabilitating injured soldiers. I was and continue to be very fortunate to have many wonderful colleagues and mentors in general practice who inspire me to be the best doctor I can be. When I finally landed in general practice and discovered community medicine and continuity of care with my patients, I knew I had found my home in my career.
What services does Balmain Village Health offer? What can clients expect from a visit to the practice?
At Balmain Village Health we strive to provide the highest level of health care, specifically tailored to Balmain and its surrounding communities. Patients feel a sense of belonging as well as respect at our practice. We are equipped to provide every aspect of general practice care and have a comprehensive allied health team too. Our team is growing all the time to ensure that patients can find a solution for their health concerns. For example, recently we have provided a space for a government-funded Karitane midwife to support parents in baby and toddler care in everything from breastfeeding to sleep health.
How would you describe your style as a GP?
I have a friendly and conversational style as a GP who prioritises getting to know my patients in the context of their lives and their own goals. I take a holistic view and my aim in caring for patients is always two-fold: to address the current issues as well as to help them to optimise health in general.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the community-centric nature of general practice and the challenge of diagnosis and treatment outside of a hospital setting and of course in every area of medicine. Health is always in the context of the whole person, and I find it particularly rewarding to walk with patients through the ups and downs of their everyday lives.
Do you have any particular areas of interest as a GP? What interests you most about these areas?
As a doctor I have been lucky to work in many areas of medicine before becoming a GP, including emergency medicine, obstetrics and sexual health, which has broadened my skills. I also have additional training in paediatrics, contraception and menopause management. Women’s health is a particular interest of mine because it is so variable and complex at every stage of life for girls and women and so important to manage well. Of course, it is a particular privilege to look out for mothers as they look out for everyone else!
Mothers often put their family’s needs ahead of their own. What are some of the most important things a mother should do for her health?
There are so many ways to be healthy and that definition is different for each mother. There is no right or correct way – there is only the way that works for her. For a new mum it can help to schedule time for your own health and wellbeing, such as booking your own health check appointment with your GP whenever you book your baby in. The most important thing for health at all stages is to recruit a team of people so you can identify and reach your own health and wellbeing goals while being a mother too. A strong team may include family and friends, other mums you can relate to, a trusted GP, midwives for mothercraft help and advice, a psychologist, dietician and physiotherapist. It really does take a village!
What are some things we all can do for better mental health?
Initiatives such as RUOK? Day have brought mental health into the mainstream and continue to encourage people to talk about their own mental health, which I believe is the single most important thing a person can do.
There are some simple things we can all do though, which can have remarkable mental health benefits. First, move your body somehow – walking, kayaking, dancing, cycling, yoga … anything you can fit in! Second, find the love in your life – your family and your friends – and invest in them. Third, try to keep learning – in your career, your hobbies, your travels or other interests. And when you come across challenges and life stressors, get your ‘village’ on board early to help you with solutions.
Is there a book or podcast series you’ve enjoyed recently?
I have just finished the beautiful podcast ‘Not by Accident’. It is the story of an Australian mum and her daughter from the very beginning of her pregnancy. The creator, who is also a documentary filmmaker and works in the arts, told her story with the help of real-time recordings through her whole experience from pregnancy to having a school-age child. It is a binge-worthy podcast and truly remarkable for its raw honesty about all the happiness, the struggles and the love found in her own family and in just being part of a family of any description.
Favourite places to hang out or relax in the Inner West?
I love the Inner West for the Bay Walk and the cafe culture. I can be found anywhere between Petersham and Drummoyne on a weekend for a brunch rendezvous with friends. My current favourite spots to eat are the White Cockatoo for its consistently good food and wine and The Carpenter cafe in Leichhardt for its breakfast and the beautiful mugs you can hug a warm coffee in! I also can’t go past a morning swim at the pool at Leichhardt Aquatic Centre or a weekend wander through Rozelle markets.