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Three Minute Squiz with… Sonia Henry

17 September 2019




Sonia Henry is a doctor who dabbles in writing in her spare time – though it’s not exactly dabbling once your debut novel is published… In 2017, Sonia wrote an article about the extraordinary pressures placed on trainee doctors. It went viral, and the conversations it started inspired her novel Going Under. We’re pretty stoked she starts her day with The Squiz. 

How and where do you Squiz?
Generally on the train to and from work. It showcases some really interesting stuff and it’s fantastic I’m getting my book featured in something I browse all the time!

You wrote an anonymous opinion piece on the suicide rate of young doctors that was shared over 22,000 times. It’s safe to say it struck a chord within the medical profession. Were you expecting that response?
In a word, no. It really threw me. I think in the end it appealed to people because of its blunt honesty, which can be relatively rare in a profession like medicine. I think the response, support and interest it received was a sign that it was probably time for honesty on that level, and I appreciated the support more than I can say.

What’s one change you hope to see from the conversations around the pressures facing young doctors?
Like I always say, I’m not a politician or a policymaker, and ultimately that’s where deep and meaningful changes occur in a profession, but on a personal level the fact these conversations are even happening and I can continue to amplify them with my book is certainly a positive thing. For a member of the general public to look at a doctor through a different lens and instead of thinking ‘why is my doctor always late’, to rather consider the reasons like time pressures, work shortages, and fatigue due to diabolical working hours – even on a small scale that’s a good thing. I would also really like bullying to become a thing of the past in medicine. Kindness is so so so important. I guess that’s the short answer. The one change I think I’d like to see would be carte blanche kindness be adopted throughout hospitals and clinics around the country. We’re really good at clinical medicine but for some reason, we aren’t that great at kindness, towards ourselves or each other.

How much is your main character Kitty Holliday based on your own experiences?
I think there’s a bit of Kitty in me for sure, maybe in a lot of doctors! (I guess not everyone may drink as much cheap white wine!) Certainly, I see Kitty as part of me, sort of like a younger sister. I am very fond of her. It was great fun to appropriate experiences I was having into the vehicle of Kitty as a character. I felt so strongly for her in parts when she’s lurching from one crisis to the next, which was a weird feeling as she is loosely based on myself. Some friends who are doctors message me now and say things like ‘I’ve got a night off, I’m tapping into my inner Kitty Holliday tonight!’ and that makes me laugh so much.

You’re a keen traveller, what’s your ideal holiday?
This is a hard question as there are so many fantastic places in this crazy world that I love and would love to visit! I probably would have to say skiing in Switzerland, crossing the border into Italy is a favourite. I adore Italy. The Italians in many ways really know how to live. Italy is so full of history and passion and beautiful wine and food and people. I sometimes dream of going full Under the Tuscan Sun and running away to a little Italian village somewhere and being a fulltime writer, but I don’t have nearly enough money to do that!

Name four people – living or dead – you’d kill to sit down to dinner with.
This is tough! I’d probably say JFK as I am a bit of a Kennedy buff, and that era of modern history really interests me. Then I’d say Germaine Greer, who is a bit of a polarising figure but I think she’d be incredibly interesting – she’s so iconic, and also sitting next to JFK (a notorious womaniser) would make for some fireworks. Then I’d say Jane Goodall, who is a primatologist and anthropologist who is considered the world’s leading expert on Chimpanzees – she has had the most incredible life and done some amazing stuff. Finally, I’d choose my grandfather. He was a country big animal vet who died the year before I was born and he made such a contribution to rural farming medicine and the town he lived in. I’d love to tell him about the influence he has had over my life without ever having met me.

Your favourite book/writer?
My favourite book hands down is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. She hasn’t written so many books though, so after that I’d say Michael Crichton who wrote Jurassic Park, and I also (bit of a guilty pleasure) adore John Grisham. *

What is your worst and best habits?
My worst habit is without a doubt my lack of domestication and the terrible chaos and mess I live in. I only very recently purchased a frying pan (!) and an ongoing source of amusement for my friends is how hopeless I am in any domestic sphere.

My best habit I think is my open-mindedness. I never judge anyone and firmly believe we are all human and that by default means we make mistakes. I’ve made heaps! I like to think I am a kind and genuine person which stems from being open-minded, and we all need to be a bit kinder in today’s world.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Meeting external expectations. We are all so geared (and I am certainly not immune to this!) to meet these expectations placed on us by the current societal model and whilst this is good in some ways, I think it really can take over and leave many of us, in the end, wondering exactly who we are always trying to please, and also wondering if it really gives us the happiness and the validation we all seem to be seeking.

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story Australians should know about but don’t?
Oh, can I say two? (Sorry!) Firstly, I think the state of Indigenous health is a major major issue. We sort of pay attention to it in the news but then it often doesn’t seem to really penetrate. Indigenous life expectancies and health outcomes are still lagging so much, and I think we need to do better at closing the gap. Secondly, I’d say mental health. As a GP I see SO MUCH mental health with people struggling. I think we need to be more authentic, focus less on social media and the veneer of perfection, and sit down and have some honest discussions about the fact life is hard, happiness is often very elusive, a lot of us are struggling, and we need to support each other – and there’s absolutely no shame in admitting any of that.

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