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A Man on a Mission

We meet Caboolture Hospital Emergency Director, Dr Sean Keogh

“There is nothing more rewarding than helping people and being an ED doc is a great way to do this, regardless of why a patient presents to hospital.”

There is very little that you cannot do…I came from a ‘challenging’ socio-economic background – you should never assume that people around you cannot achieve the goals they set for themselves – if you are motivated and work hard you will very likely succeed

“It’s not just about saving lives – it’s also about the interactions with people from all different backgrounds and cultures, often when they are at their most vulnerable, and that is incredibly rewarding.”

It’s a long way from the West Midlands of England to Maleny in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland where Dr Sean Keogh, Emergency Director at Caboolture Hospital is designing a new Emergency Department (ED) along with a new family home and farm in Maleny to raise his family and run a few head of cattle in his spare time.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sean Keogh at the Caboolture Hospital to learn about his life and ambitions for a smarter workplace, healthier community and a larger and more efficient emergency department. On my arrival at the Caboolture Hospital and prior to meeting Sean, I was taken on a short tour of the Caboolture Hospital by the Hospital’s Senior Communications Advisor. As we concluded our tour of the Clinical Educational Facility, the security doors clicked opened and in walked Sean Keogh dressed in his Emergency Department Uniform, wearing a sleeveless black winter jacket, ID Badge and all-purpose black work shoes. We walked together along a corridor into a clinical meeting room. For some unknown reason, I thought if I take my time to remove my jacket, find a pen, fetch my notes, blow my nose, prepare my first question and set the tape recorder – the tea trolley might arrive stacked with warm scones and cream accompanied by a piping hot latte – Okay, that did not happen. This is a story of how an 18-year-old-man made the decision to have a go at life – to harness his knowledge and life experience and educate himself to become one of the world’s leading Emergency Doctors.

Sean Keogh was born and raised in Birmingham until he was 11 years old, when his family moved to Tamworth, a large market town in Staffordshire, England, 23 kilometres away. Sean comes from a single parent family - he and his two sisters were raised by his mother, who cleaned houses by day and worked as a barmaid in the evenings, and money was always very short. Sean recalls his schooling days when his mum fought to have Sean enrolled into a state Grammar School, despite the school being located outside of their geographical catchment area. Sean said, “When I was 11, my mother would march me to the new school and back home, a round trip of about 8km, every school day for 4 months, to get me accepted into Grammar School. Eventually, the school just gave up and agreed to take me in - that was that, he said. “I think that this opportunity contributed to my success, but overwhelmingly I think that my mother’s determination to see me succeed was the key.”

In 1982, after Sean Keogh completed school, he made the decision to pack his bags and head to Medical School to complete his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at St Georges Hospital, at the University of London. It was not without judgement or doubt by some of his friends – as Sean says, “When you come from a poor family living in a very rough council estate like ours, expectations are not always that high.” Since his graduation in 1987, Sean Keogh has not looked back. Thankfully Sean offered up his resume which put my interview into perspective. It would be fair to say from reviewing Sean’s resume that his approach to education and desire to travel the world has been relentless. In the past 30 years, Sean has actively worked in Emergency Medicine and disaster relief across the UK, South Africa, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Montserrat, Nepal, Burma, Haiti, the Philippines, New Zealand and Australia. During that time, he has racked the necessary qualifications including being made a Fellow of the UK Royal Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons, Emergency Medicine, Immediate Medical Care and a Fellow of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine and Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators. He also now holds a position as adjunct Professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Such is the drive of Sean Keogh that he completed a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at London Business School at the same time as he was working as an Emergency Medicine Consultant in the UK and secured his FAA Commercial Pilots Licence and PADI Rescue Diver qualifications to put the butter icing on the doctor’s cake.

Sean’s resume is rounded out with his 10 published research articles, one of which originated from his work as an Emergency Doctor with the London Air Ambulance, where Sean pioneered and performed the world’s first successful pre-hospital thoracotomy for trauma – surgically opening the chest of a clinically dead stabbing victim and repairing a knife wound to his heart while he was still lying on a London pavement where he fell – with the patient leaving hospital 2 weeks later with normal brain function.

With all that said, Sean Keogh is firstly a loving husband, dad and mentor for his kids. His focus on work-life balance and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is critical to his weekly program. Sean said, “I have always had a passion for Japanese Martial Art, going back to my school days and these days one of my sons and I train at Yoshinkan Aikido classes in Caloundra several times week. I have many other passions including flying, skydiving, snowboarding and travel and very soon I should have a herd of cattle wandering the paddock in Maleny. My wife is Slovak and family life is very traditional, I do everything to do with repairs, maintenance and outdoors and my wife deals with the management of our home – that’s the way she likes it! Each day is a new challenge and of course I love good food and never pass up on a glass of wine in moderation.” So after all these years, why did Sean Keogh ‘set up his life’ in Maleny and devote his professional future to the Caboolture Hospital? Sean said, “I have worked and lived all over the world, including setting up air medical services in places as exotic as the Bahamas, but Maleny is the most beautiful place I have ever lived. When we settled on living in Maleny and raising our kids in that environment, I did not want to be wasting precious family time commuting to work in major city centres, he said.” “In terms of my workplace, the Caboolture Hospital team is unique - a very special family of professionals. I knew that the Caboolture Staff were a dedicated and busy team – Caboolture ED is a very tough environment as you can imagine - and that is what I enjoy. At the same time, my role as an Administrator and Clinician has allowed me to lead the Design Team for the expansion and new build for Caboolture Hospital Emergency Department which I think will be a benchmark facility within Australia both for design and the safety and efficiency with which we care for patients, and Metro North Hospital and Health Service, which oversees the Caboolture Hospital has been extremely supportive in allowing our team to establish the new design. Currently we are seeing about 55,000 emergency patients per year within an incredibly small Emergency Department. It is forecast by 2026 that we will be seeing more than 115,000 patients, which is one of the reasons we are designing a state-of-the-art Emergency Facility for the community. If you look at the rate of development in our region, it is likely we will see a lot more families and children in the future, as well as rising numbers of the elderly.” Nerys Brackman, Clinical Nurse Manager of the Caboolture ED said, “We are very fortunate to have such an expert group of Doctors and Nurses at Caboolture. Although we are well versed in managing our busy Emergency Department, we are excited about the next chapter with development of a new patient-friendly department. It has been very rewarding being involved with Dr Keogh in the planning for the new design.” Prior to taking up the Position at the Caboolture Hospital, Sean was working as Senior Consultant and Director for Care Flight based in Brisbane and as a Deputy Director of Medical Services at Redcliffe Hospital. The Caboolture Development is clearly a very exciting project for Sean and his team. As we toured through the Emergency Department, Sean showed me the design for the new facility which is fixed to the wall in his office.

It is rewarding and inspiring to meet a man like Dr Sean Keogh - an innovative, articulate, considered, energised, and passionate human being who is devoting a life to caring for all people equally whether they suffer an addiction, fall off a ladder or require critical life-saving intervention – we are in good hands at the Caboolture Hospital. Thank you to the Metro North Hospital and Health Service Senior Communications Advisor, Stephen Hapgood for facilitating the interview with Dr Keogh.


What motivated you to become a Doctor?. I was fortunate enough to do well at school and I loved Biology and Chemistry – medicine seemed a logical choice and I don’t think that there is anything more rewarding than helping people. It also seemed a good way to move away from the Midlands and study and perhaps meet some meet girls and maybe have some fun - please remember, I was only 18. I started working in General Medicine, completed my postgraduate Physicians and then Surgeons exams and ended up working in Emergency Medicine. I have been lucky enough to have worked in disaster zones and helicopter air ambulances across the world. It’s not just saving lives, which of course does happen – it’s also about the interactions with people from all different backgrounds and cultures that is just as rewarding.

How do you compare the UK and Australian Emergency Medicine Models? They are very similar, however in Australia we probably do more clinical interventions for a patient in the ED before a patient is referred to other specialties or ICU.

How will the new Caboolture Hospital ED be any different to others around the world? I have had the privilege of working in many emergency facilities. Some in third world countries where you have very little equipment and others in major cities like London or places like Soweto, in Johannesburg. The challenge is to develop a facility absolutely focused on high quality care, safety and efficiency – as well as being a fun and enjoyable place to work – my nurse managers and I recently travelled to the United States to have a good look at benchmark facilities providing unique designs for smooth patient flow while supporting the need for efficient patient treatment and triage. There is a standard way to design an ED in Australia and that is not the route we are taking. Our new build will be 5 times larger than at present and so it is incredibly important to maintain the fabulous communication we currently have within our tiny department, and our new ED is a non-standard design based around flexibility, visibility and patient flow.

What do you see as the challenges in the Caboolture region? Caboolture is a fantastic community, though areas have a relatively low socio-economic demographic and like other similar demographics, the Caboolture ED responds to large proportion of complex cases that often present late in the course of the illness. This also applies to children and we see many very sick kids. Drugs like ICE and new synthetic drugs are of significant concern in our region – ICE is incredibly addictive and destructive to our bodies and ICE use is by no means limited to the lower socio-economic population. We see many ICE users who are professional people presenting to our ED. It’s disturbing for our clinicians and security teams because we frequently have to manage the severe behavioural consequences of drug use and departmental disturbances related to these cases – it is challenging because we see the end result of people’s lifestyle choices and, often, these results are not good.

What makes your ED Team so special? I have been at the Caboolture Hospital for 18 months and the team are outstanding and work very hard – there is never a let up – and I would consider this as one of the toughest ED’s to work in state-wide. The first thing you notice when you work at Caboolture is that you can’t put your feet up – the work just doesn’t stop. Like most ED teams, we have several important layers of professionals including Medical Staff, Nursing Teams, Administration staff, Allied Health and Security. The benefit of the current Caboolture ED is that we see a lot of patients in a very small space, working physically closely to one another, which promotes stronger relationships and more active communications. Our staff certainly don’t come to work at Caboolture because it’s in a nice shiny building. People come to work because they like nursing or they like being a Doctor or supporting front line staff - they want to help people.

How do you maintain an educational environment? Education is part of every doctor’s job. The first thing you learn in Emergency Medicine is that you can’t learn the profession from a text book. We run programs where we interact with each other to grow our knowledge. In emergency medicine, you work as a team, discuss cases and frequently learn from each other. Caboolture provides a great learning environment and is a very popular with junior doctors once they have got over the shock of how busy ED can be here.

What Does your work week look like? Firstly, because I have a reasonably large administrative workload, I make sure that I roster myself onto the busiest clinical days and nights – especially Sundays and Mondays. On these days I start at midday and go overnight. On my Administrative Days I will start at about 7.15am and finish at about 6pm.

If you were to invite anyone over for dinner at your home – who would it be? Ernest Shackleton the Antarctic explorer – my kind of leader Kim Jong-un - Leader of North Korea – if only to ask him how he lives with himself after seeing the poverty and misery in North Korea first-hand when I was working there I would probably cook a favourite Asian style meal with a glass of French Sancerre or a nice Australian red.

Where do you choose to holiday? I have been very fortunate to travel the world and interact with many cultures. - If my holiday was about meeting people – it would be Afghanistan – I worked there in 1997 during the Rustaq Earthquake – these are the most welcoming people in the world. You hear so many stories about people taking you in and if necessary protecting you – I experienced this first hand. - If my holiday were for scenery – it would be California – Yosemite National Park is simply amazing. - If my holiday were for interest - it would be snowboarding in Japan. What is your favourite film? I don’t think I can pick only one! I love Dr Zhivago, Schindler’s list, Gladiator, 12 Angry Men and, I am embarrassed to say, Top Gun.

What personal message do you have for the community? There is very little that you cannot do…I came from a ‘challenging’ background – you should never assume that people around you cannot achieve the goals they set for themselves – if you are motivated and work hard you will very likely succeed

What Health Message do you have for our community? As a population we are in dangerous times with the way we treat our bodies. At the end of the day, if you don’t look after yourself, you will end up a higher health care user than you need to be. Stop and reflect before you make choices – everyone knows that drugs or huge amounts of sugar is bad for you without me saying it - I think it is critical to lead by example because your children will often do what you do. Take reasonable care of yourself without becoming paragons of virtue – that’s all that doctors would ask. We are happier when the population is healthier.

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