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A career in rehabilitation the life and love of SCI Staff Specialist

14 December 2023

With a remarkable 47-year career under her cap, Princess Alexandra Hospital’s Dr Sue Urquhart is both a leader in the field of amputee services, spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation and one of the hospital’s most widely beloved doctors. 

Her life’s work dedicated to supporting some of the state’s most complex patients has seen Dr Urquhart’s invaluable contribution to the field of rehabilitation resonate across the state and beyond. 

“The wonderful Dr Bill Davies challenged me in 1976 to do my fourth-year research project with the spinal unit. I took him up on the challenge, and the rest as they say, is history,” she said. 

By 1979, Dr Urquhart’s residency was secured at PAH, where she spent the next four years growing into her specialty. Before long, Dr Urquhart was seconded to Greenslopes Hospital, where she practised as an Injury Registrar, eventually taking her expertise to England, where she practised as a Spinal Registrar for two years. 

Returning to PAH to fully embrace her calling in rehabilitation, Dr Urquhart worked between the hospital’s Spinal Injuries Unit (SIU), Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit (BIRU) and the Queensland Amputee Limb Service (QALS). Dr Urquhart’s experience working with various Queensland Amputee Limb Services as well as establishing and consulting at regional clinics throughout Queensland helped seal her passion for rehabilitation medicine. Dr Urquhart says spinal injury rehabilitation has remained her ‘first love’ over the years. 

“I've thoroughly enjoyed working in Spinal. The patients have challenged me every day in so many different ways, and some have become very close friends. It's been a joy working with them and helping them achieve their maximum capabilities,” she said. 

Mentored by some of the hospital’s most renowned legacies, Dr Urquhart says the guidance and support she received over the decades helped shape her career into the success it is today.

“I’ve had five key mentors in my 47 years. Bill Davies, Vernon Hill and Paul Hopkins were my biggest. Glenda Powell and Keith Hirschfeld from GARU also helped me a lot in the early days and kept me focused.”

A key player in the Spinal Injuries Unit’s (SIU) transformation over the last half-century, Dr Urquhart has led and contributed to pivotal changes at the Unit, and takes much pride in the dedication of the multidisciplinary team’s approach to patient care. 

“It’s been an incredible period of time, to be a doctor in the last 47 years and see all the changes that have occurred,” she said. 

“When I started, three quarters of our patients were under 35, and now almost three quarters are over 50. That’s a change in how you manage patients and how the teams have adapted to those changes and the big ongoing changes, is something to be proud of. The mission hasn’t changed, but the way it’s done and the delivery of care has, and that’s been fascinating to witness. Spinal injury rehabilitation is such a holistic process, and it’s a truly multidisciplinary team effort.”

Between performing the first helicopter retrieval in Queensland, coordinating movement between the old and new spinal units, and leading efficiency initiatives for pressure injury prevention, Dr Urquhart reflects on her career achievements proudly, but it’s the connections she’s made with patients and staff at PAH that stand out to her the most. 

“Working with all of the allied health, nursing and community services team members has been a joy, and I have made so many friends in that time. And the patients are the biggest part of it.”

As she hangs up her stethoscope for the last time, Dr Urquhart leaves behind an enduring legacy at PAH and a few words of advice to her successors. 

“Listen to your patients, because they can teach you more than you can teach them. The team is also so important. Every team member is very valuable, no matter who they are or where they are. That's been part of the joy of working at PAH.”

Last updated 29 January 2024
Last reviewed 14 December 2023

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