An interview with Dr. Jackie Chua: QUFW co-owner, women’s health advocate, academic and clinical leader

Mar 3, 2024 | QUFW News | 0 comments

We sat down with QUFW co-owner, Dr. Jackie Chua, to learn more about her unique contribution to obstetrics and gynaecology in Queensland, her passion for women’s health, the vision she has for QUFW, and more.

Dr. Jackie Chua is a RANZCOG-accredited sub-specialised Obstetrics and Gynaecology sonologist. She is currently the Head of Discipline in Obstetrics and Gynaecology for the Diploma of Diagnostic Ultrasound for the Australasian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine. She also represents Queensland on the COGU subcommittee at RANZCOG and the Australian Association for Obstetrical and Gynaecological Ultrasonologists committee. Dr. Chua has a special interest in fertility scanning and endometriosis assessment, and is the co-owner of QUFW.

Table Of Contents

  1. An early interest in obstetrics and gynaecology
  2. Early career, inspiring role models
  3. A graceful attitude towards patient care
  4. Helping women understand their bodies
  5. The limitations of ultrasound
  6. On professional and clinical developments
  7. The future of her practice
  8. A doting family figure

Dr. Jackie Chua’s story is an inspiring blend of familial legacy, relentless self-education, and an unyielding advocacy for women’s health.

As we sit down to speak, it doesn’t take long for Dr. Chua to demonstrate why she has become an accomplished figure in Australia’s obstetrics and gynaecology space. Like many groundbreaking clinicians, her career ‘formula’ is unique. And it began with an origin story that started much earlier than her peers.

An early interest in obstetrics and gynaecology

Dr. Chua’s father, a medical school graduate from the University of Queensland, and her mother, a nurse from Toowoomba, instilled strong family values in their daughter from a young age. Moving from Australia to a small Canadian town when she was six months old, Dr. Chua was able to experience the colours of small-town medical life.

“When I was young, I would sit in the doctor’s waiting room waiting for my father, and I would sometimes hear ladies crying and screaming,” she recalls.

“But then every so often, I’d hear a baby.”

“And then, as I grew up, I thought, that’s very special.”

This backdrop of community care, and the vivid memories of experiencing the cries and joy of childbirth, sparked an interest in her future career.

However, despite these early influences, Dr. Chua’s path to medicine was not straightforward. After initially pursuing science in Canada, a family holiday back to Brisbane led to an impromptu, and successful, application to university.

Starting in pharmacy, she later transitioned into medicine and completed her medical training at the University of Queensland. An internship experience in an obstetrics and gynaecology (“O&G”) placement at the Mater hospital appealed to her.

“I liked obstetrics and gynaecology because it gave me a mix between medicine and surgery,” she explains.

“And I thought, well, that’s cool. You are able to use surgical skills and medical skills, rather than having to think you have to just do ‘medicine’ or you just have to do ‘surgery’.”

“And I felt that there must be somewhere I can actually actually help people, especially women, so that they understood their health better and weren’t scared by their bodies.”

“That’s why I wanted to do O&G when I graduated,” she explains.

“After doing my internship at the Mater, I decided to go and do my second year at Southampton General Hospital in the UK.”

Early career, inspiring role models

It was at this time in her career that Dr. Chua was influenced by two inspirational clinicians.

“At that time, one of the doctors I knew of was Dr. Aldo Vacca. He’s the gentleman who invented what’s called the Kiwi Cup, a vacuum suction cup for delivering babies.”

“He gave back to charity, went back to PNG and worked there every so often, and invented a vacuum extraction device that makes deliveries safer and better.”

“He unfortunately passed away quite a few years ago, but he was amazing,” Dr. Chua explains.

Dr. Chua also recalls her admiration for the late Professor Fung Yee Chan, a no-nonsense, fiercely intelligent female clinician who was the founder of, and a role model in, a department that was predominantly male at the time.

“She was no nonsense and she was smart. She was very dedicated. She was someone that you just sit and go, wow!”

“As a female doctor in a position of that type of departmental type of position, it was really cool because everyone at that time were actually all boys,” she explains.

When Dr. Chua returned to Australia, she embarked on a six-year O&G training program. Her decision to sub-specialise in ultrasound was sparked during her fifth year, after the program’s curriculum opened her eyes to the possibilities within the field.

When she completed her training, Dr. Chua found herself as the only COGU subspecialist in Queensland—a distinction she held for over a decade.

A graceful attitude towards patient care

Dr. Chua doesn’t rush appointments, despite the pressures of a busy clinic, and she is attentive to the underlying fears that might accompany a patient’s visit.

“I just stop and I listen,” she says.

“And I go back and say… look, I understand what you’re saying.”

“And please don’t feel like you can’t ask me a question. I will always listen.”

She explains her use of empathy as both a clinical tool and an instrument for putting her patients at ease.

“And I try to find out what it is that they’re scared of as well, which can be very relieving once they open and up and discuss it.”

This holistic approach to patient care—balancing technical expertise with compassionate communication—is undoubtedly one of the traits that have contributed to her career trajectory.

When probed for a feel-good patient story, Dr. Chua, with a chuckle, admits the challenge in articulating a single moment. To her, each patient is a chapter, and while she may be a crucial part of their healthcare journey, the collective gratitude expressed by those she helps stands out more than any one experience.

“Some patients stop and just say thank you. Thank you for explaining it well. I didn’t understand. Thank you for actually listening or taking the time and explaining it,” she says.

Helping women understand their bodies

One of Dr. Chua’s passions is helping women understand, and not fear, their bodies.

She does this by delivering definitive diagnoses as best she possibly can, particularly in complex conditions like endometriosis. She tries to offer patients not just medical insights but also validation and relief from the angst of the unknown.

“Some ladies feel frustrated when their pain goes undiagnosed.”

“In my work in gynaecology, I’m sometimes able to say to some ladies that, yes, there is something wrong with you, even if other avenues haven’t been able to visibly see anything,” she explains.

“It gives patients the realisation that their pain is real.”

She considers herself a link in the healthcare chain, aiding fertility specialists by advising on the viability of natural conception or the need for IVF, assisting gynaecologic oncologists by identifying potential cancers, and ensuring that fetal abnormalities are appropriately managed through collaborative care.

Dr. Chua is humble and reluctant to celebrate her career. Yet the significance of her role transcends the technicalities of her specialty.

The limitations of ultrasound

Dr. Chua is also eager to address a common misunderstanding of medical ultrasound technology: while ultrasound is adept at revealing structural aspects of the body, it cannot ascertain functionality.

This limitation is a frequent source of misunderstanding among patients who seek absolute reassurance about their health, or the health of their unborn child.

“Patients often come with the hope of hearing that everything is perfect,” she explains.

“They say, ‘all I want is a healthy baby,’ and naturally so.”

“But the reality of what ultrasound can deliver in terms of answers is sometimes at odds with these expectations.”

She confronts the difficult task of conveying that, while she can identify the presence of vital organs and limbs, the ultimate functioning of these structures remains beyond the scope of the scan. Her clinical process becomes a delicate combination of providing clear information and managing patient expectations.

Additionally, in the world of gynaecology, Dr. Chua faces similar challenges. Women suffering from years of pelvic pain may expect a definitive diagnosis through ultrasound, which is not always possible.

“Ultrasound, on its own, is not meant to definitively diagnose conditions like endometriosis,” she asserts.

The task then becomes one of education, helping patients to understand that while ultrasound is a powerful tool, it has its bounds.

On professional and clinical developments

In discussing how she keeps herself and her clinic at the cutting edge, Dr. Chua reveals a commitment to continuous learning, jokingly referring to ‘osmosis from her peers’ before delving into more substantial methods.

“That’s why I like to teach. I like to learn. I always say… I’m not done learning.”

“At least I’m done having exams. At least I think I am,” she chuckles.

“But I don’t think I know everything and I’m always happy to learn.”

Dr. Chua’s approach to medicine is dynamic; she sees every procedure as a collective effort, influenced by various practitioners, where learning and teaching are reciprocal processes.

She maintains an affiliation with the public hospital system, not solely for the sake of helping more people but also to teach and learn from others.

Looking towards the future, Dr. Chua hopes to continue enhancing the standards of ultrasound in women’s health by building on the clinic’s achievements and fostering an environment of continuous improvement.

The future of her practice

Dr. Chua is passionate about QUFW’s future, ensuring the clinic’s longevity by welcoming junior fellows without overwhelming them. She envisions a collaborative future, not just within her immediate team of sonographers but extending into the wider medical community, including GPs, to optimise care for women.

What sets QUFW apart, in Dr. Chua’s view, is her team’s approachability and willingness to engage in dialogue. She believes in maintaining open lines of communication, where questions are welcomed, and answers are given thoughtfully—a philosophy that may be understated but is deeply valued.

Dr. Chua jumps at the chance to describe her team as exceptionally skilled.

“They’re darn good at what they do and I feel like I’m the support act sometimes to them, but hopefully, I’m a good support act,” she says.

In ten years from now, Dr. Chua sees QUFW growing and evolving while retaining the core team that makes it exceptional. Her modesty is clear when discussing the clinic’s success, highlighting her preference for service over self-promotion.

When asked about the next decade, she says she hopes QUFW will be, “slightly bigger, slightly older, and still with the great team.”

“And just continuing to work hard.”

A doting family figure

Dr. Chua finds solace in family life, allowing the comforts of home to provide rejuvenation. She emphasises the importance of leaving work at the door–a strategy to preserve her own well-being amidst the demands of her career.

“I do try to leave it at the doorstep and, if occasionally it does come home with me, that’s fine,” she says.

In a final reflection on her career, Dr. Chua considers the possibility of maintaining her surgical skills but ultimately expresses contentment with her chosen path, affirming that specialising has allowed her to excel in her field.

If she could offer her younger self a piece of advice, it would simply be, “you’ll get there,” a nod to the patience and perseverance that have been hallmarks of her journey in medicine.

As the interview concludes, Dr. Chua’s gentle, confident, yet humble nature is evident. Her pioneering spirit, commitment to her work, and the care of her patients and team speaks louder than any self-praise.

March 2024

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