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Dr Natalia Khomko, “the woman of her word”, delivering babies at Frances Perry House in Melbourne

Dr Natalia Khomko is the woman of her word, working at Obstetrics & Gynaecology Consulting Group, and delivering babies at Frances Perry House, private maternity hospital in Melbourne, Victoria. During her 18 year career in Obstetrics she delivered over 2000 babies. The dream of becoming an Obstetrician & Gynaecologist and caring for women in Melbourne has been Natalia’s long term passion. She is caring, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, taking every possible precaution to ensure the safety and well-being of her patients.

I always wanted to interview Natalia and share a short fragment of my personal journey with her being my Obstetrician seven years ago. I would like to introduce Dr Natalia Khomko to you, and you can refer back to this article if you ever need to contact her. The article covers Natalia’s work and life philosophy, best moments of her career, her personal view on Obstetrics and how the Specialty can provide a better service to women. I chose to introduce Natalia as “the woman of her word” for a reason. This reason is reflected in my personal pregnancy story.

Part 1. “I am having a boy”

It was my third pregnancy, I was 30 years old and I knew this was my last pregnancy. I was lucky to be able to become a mum and to give birth to my two beautiful and healthy boys. When I fell pregnant for the third time, I started looking for an Obstetrician that could fulfil my needs on a different level, I wanted to have a different experience. I searched for a Russian speaking female doctor. After some well conducted research I found Dr Natalia Khomko.

Dr Natalia showed great care throughout my whole pregnancy. I always felt safe and in great hands. I asked her not to reveal the sex of my baby until birth. I know how hard it was for her to keep it from me for the whole 9 months as I was repeatedly saying to her that I was having a boy. I was taken by surprise when a baby girl arrived on the 17th December, just before Christmas. Natalia was with me all the way. She stayed and waited after the end of her shift to assist with the safe arrival of little Anastasia. I am forever grateful to her and the whole team at Frances Perry House for this experience.

Part 2. Dr Natalia Khomko

Born in Belarus and migrated to Australia as a child, she completed her studies at Monash Medical School graduating with Honours. She is a much respected woman amongst her friends and colleagues. I met Dr Natalia 7 years ago and today we’ve caught up for the first time since then for a chat to find out where she is at and where her career has taken her to.

Natalia, what is your work and life philosophy?  What is important to you?

I feel lucky to have one of the most wonderful jobs in the world. I get to join women/couples on their journey to parenthood and get to share one of the most significant and precious moments of their lives. I also get to support women/couples during some tough times. I consider it a privilege to play such a significant role in people’s lives. Obstetrics is more than just a job to me. I care for each woman/couple as if they are my own family. It is important to me to ensure safety of the mother and the baby. And it is equally important to me that women/couples have a positive experience and feel like they have been treated with respect and have been involved in decision making.

I believe in importance of preventative health care, and I am proud of the contribution I make to prevention and ultimately eradication of cervical cancer through my work with cervical screening abnormalities.

I enjoy Private Practice as I get to know my patients and can tailor my care to their individual needs. I also value our Public Hospital system and enjoy being able to contribute to it.

I strive for continuing improvements in my practice through ongoing professional development. I do this by attending courses, conferences, workshops, webinars and by auditing my outcomes. I am open to suggestions for further improvements.

I value my colleagues and all the significant contributions they make to my career. I am appreciative for all the support I get from the staff working by my side.

Most importantly I value my family and my friends. Without their love and support I would not be where I am today, and I would not be able to continue doing my job with such passion and dedication. They are the people I can share my highs and my lows with. They are the people I can rely on being by my side when I need them. Time spent with them is invaluable.

I know that to be my best self and to do my job well, I also need to be kind to myself. Therefore, I prioritise the things that “refill my cup”. I enjoy travel and getting to know different places and cultures. I love spending time in nature going for long walks.  I enjoy concerts, shows and theatre.  I love dining out and trying new recipes at home. Healthy lifestyle is important to me, so I prioritise sleep, exercise, and good nutrition. I include some pampering sessions such as massages and facials. I value personal development.

Did you always want to be a doctor?  What made you choose career in Obstetrics?

I wanted to be a doctor from a very young age. While growing up in Belarus and in Russia I spent a lot of time around hospitals. My mother used to work as a Medical Laboratory Scientist in Hospital Pathology Labs, and I would often visit her at work after school. I always felt comfortable around hospitals and could see myself working in a similar environment. In addition, a lot of my mother’s friends were healthcare workers, and in particular doctors. I remember a lot of medical discussions that my mum was involved in while at work and socially. I remember thinking that Career in Medicine must be very rewarding as it involves helping people at times when they are most vulnerable. I particularly remember my mum’s friend Natalia, who is an Obstetrician Gynaecologist. Even without understanding too much about what her job involved, I remember thinking that I will be just like her when I grow up.

My family moved to Australia when I was 15 years old. I knew very little English and had to rapidly adjust to life in a new country. I did not know much about Medicine in Australia, but I knew that I still wanted to be a doctor. I still had the desire to help people.

Whilst in Medical School I had an opportunity to experience different specialties. I assisted with a birth for the first time during my Obstetrics & Gynaecology rotation. I got home in the middle of the night and woke my mother as I wanted to share my excitement. I was completely in awe of what I had witnessed. This was the moment that placed O&G at the top of my list. Going further through Medical School, no other experience came close to this.

During my medical training and in the early years of my career I was lucky to have a number of female role models which had significant influence on my career. I would like to mention two of these: Professor Beverley Vollenhoven and A/Professor Christine Tippett.  I first came across Beverley when she was my lecturer in Medical School. She is a great clinician and an educator, and her passion reinforced my interest in the specialty of O&G. Dr Tippett was a Consultant Obstetrician at Monash Medical Centre when I started my specialty training. I found her care and dedication to women outstanding, and she inspired me to concentrate on Obstetrics.

What do you find most rewarding about Obstetrics?

I find Obstetrics rewarding in many ways. Pregnancy and birth are very special and very personal experiences for women/couples. I feel privileged to be able to share this journey with them.

I started my private practice when I joined Obstetrics & Gynaecology Consulting Group in 2009. This was certainly a turning point in my career. Private Obstetrics gives me an opportunity to get to know women that I look after and to develop meaningful trusting relationships.  I get to know them on a personal level and learn about the things that are important to them. This allows me to provide individualised care taking into account medical evidence, nuances of each individual case and patient preferences.

Fertility, pregnancy and birth journeys are not always smooth, and I get to share the joys and the sorrows, the highs and the lows. Some couples have difficulty conceiving, some experience miscarriages, have babies with birth defects, have stillbirths, or experience pregnancy complications and difficult births. All of these experiences can be very traumatic. It is such an honour to be able to guide women/couples through these experiences and to be able to provide hope for the future and to show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some of the births that have touched me the most are births following previous difficult outcomes. Every birth is special in its own way, but even after 18 years of delivering babies I still get very emotional delivering a baby following previous struggles.

What can be improved in Obstetrics and how can the Specialty provide better service to women?

Modern medicine has come a long way. Ongoing research and new technologies constantly help to improve clinical care. In addition, we now recognise that effective communication is fundamental in any doctor patient relationship. This allows shared decision making which takes into account individual patient circumstances.

In this regards Obstetrics is no different. Due to significant scientific advances having a baby in Australia is generally very safe for the mother and the baby. However, having a baby is not like having any other medical treatment. It is a very significant event in women’s and couple’s lives. It is an event that is highly personal and will always stay in their memories, and I believe we can do more to assist women on an emotional level.

Not all births are easy. Births can be complicated and don’t always go the way a woman hopes. Our goal is to deliver a healthy baby and to ensure safety of the mother. At the same time it is important to ensure that women feel they are involved in decision making and their wishes are respected. The birth process might be different to what a woman imagined and hoped for, but it can still be perceived by her as a positive experience, which is important as perception of birth experience can have an effect on woman’s mental health. Communication in Obstetrics is of paramount importance. It needs to start during pregnancy and to continue during labour and postpartum. Women’s preferences need to be discussed and care needs to be individualised. Women need to have trust in their maternity care providers.  Continuity of care enables women and their maternity care providers to form trusting relationships.

Current evidence supports better birth outcomes and improved satisfaction with models that offer continuity of care. Private Obstetrics and some Public Midwifery Programs offer continuity of care. However, most of our public maternity care is not set up for this, so a woman might see different providers at all of her appointments. This does not allow for development of a meaningful relationship and does not facilitate shared decision making, which in turn increases the risk of negative birth experiences if things “do not go according to plan”.

I believe that we need to strive for more continuity in our maternity care. We need to build trusting relationships during antenatal period and to have balanced conversations which take into account scientific evidence and woman’s wishes. And we need to realise that despite our best intentions sometimes women might still be negatively affected by their birth experiences. We need to acknowledge these feelings as real and to support women as required.

What is next for you in your career?  Do you have any goals or inspirations?

Obstetrics is what I love. It gives me great satisfaction and joy. I would love to continue growing my Obstetric practice and delivering babies for as long as I can. I simply cannot see myself doing anything else!

I also have a professional interest in Cervical Screening, Colposcopy, and management of cervical abnormalities. Australia has an excellent cervical cancer screening program. The success of our program is demonstrated by the incidence and deaths from cervical cancer that are the lowest in the world. Evidence suggests that if vaccination and screening are maintained at their current rates, cervical cancer is likely to be eliminated as a Public Health issue in Australia by 2035. Australia will be the first country in the world to achieve this.

I have been working in this field for the last 12 years. I see women with abnormal Cervical Screening Tests (previously called a Pap smear) and perform a Colposcopy, which is a procedure that closely examines the cervix and allows to locate abnormalities/precancerous changes. I then manage these abnormalities. I perform Colposcopies in my private practice and in public at the Royal Women’s Hospital. I am excited to be able to provide this service to women and to contribute to eradication of cervical cancer. Doing this work also gives me an opportunity to contribute to public health care, which I see as very important.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. If you need an advice on pregnancy planning, if you are pregnant and looking for a caring private Obstetrician, or if you need a Colposcopy, you can contact Obstetrics & Gynaecology Consulting Group and make an appointment with Dr Natalia Khomko. OGCG consulting rooms are located within a short walking distance, just across the road, from the Royal Women’s Hospital.

Dr Natalia Khomko

Obstetrics & Gynaecology Consulting Group

Address: 55 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne, VIC 3051

Tel: (03) 9329 6668

Web: www.ogcg.com.au

Email: referrals@ogcg.com.au

Author: Olga Angelidis

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