Dr. Rosalie Shaw

By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen

‘She is a master communicator, sharing their joys, commiserating in their grief and patiently journeying with them as they made their way to life’s end’ ~ Dr. Cynthia Goh, Head of Department of Palliative Medicine, National Cancer Centre Singapore.

Dr Rosalie Shaw

“So tell me about yourself”, Dr. Rosalie Shaw asked me at lunch, an instant verification of the statement above that she is a master communicator; in this case, an opening question to which even the most reticent would respond. This description which appeared in the Foreword of Rosalie’s book ‘Soft Sift in an Hourglass’, stories of hope and resilience at the end of life, complements the answer she ironically gives to cardiologists when she’s asked about her role in Palliative Care, which is “I fix hearts”.

Ninth Malaysian Hospice Congress

Sharing this at her Keynote speech in May at the 9th Malaysian Hospice Congress, which was held at the Impiana Hotel in Ipoh, Rosalie, who is a Palliative Care Physician and Consultant, formerly Executive Director of Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network, also went on to quote William Osler who said, “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.

‘Fixing Hearts’

‘Fixing Hearts’ sums up Rosalie’s approach to palliative care, a calling she’s had since the 1960s when after receiving her first degree of a BA in Education, she found teaching not to her liking and after a year as a young ‘Mary Poppins’ looking after a family, she decided to go into nursing, much against the sentiments of her parents and the community. After all, in the early 1960s, even one degree qualification was a great thing and Rosalie was the first person to get a degree in the Shire where she came from in SW Victoria, Australia. Now she was throwing all that away to take up nursing which she did in Melbourne.

As usual, which will soon prove to be Rosalie’s style, she moved up the nursing ladder and soon became nurse tutor cum administrator, a job she worked in till she reached age 31, when again, her restlessness set in and she thought, ‘Why not do medicine?’. With her mind set, but with no science and maths background, she enrolled for maths, physics and chemistry lessons and took two years to get up to scratch for University entrance exams. Meanwhile, this resolute young woman worked day nursing jobs, private nursing assignments and just about anything she could, including making dresses to help her pay her way through medical school. Eventually after 8 years in total at the age of 39, she came out with a first class honours medical degree and third in her whole class which consisted of students 15 years her junior.

Kubler-Ross Role Model

Thinking that she would end up being a country doctor making house calls on a bicycle, she was side tracked by a bereavement process which she went through after a significant person in her life passed away in her second year of medical school; a bereavement which shook her to her foundations. When Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author and psychiatrist through whose ground-breaking research and writings helped revolutionize how the medical community cared for the terminally ill, came to town, Rosalie found her calling. It was to be hospice work but at that time, palliative care was an idea that was yet to take root in Australia.

Rosalie got her first big break in 1981 when she was given the opportunity to set up the first hospital based palliative care unit in Perth. With no nurse, no beds, and no equipment, she saw patients in their own wards and in their homes if she was called. Slowly and with her usual tenacity, Rosalie grew the unit by buying beds, mattresses, sofas at garage sales and any money donated to her would be kept in a fund which she would use to buy needed equipment. She did the best she could but still they were desperately short on funds.

One day a man with a cancerous lesion on his face walked in and asked for help. Rosalie, who never turns anyone away, decided to help him and got him some much needed surgery. This man who saw the plight of the Palliative Care Unit, decided to write to the State Minister who miraculously paid this man a visit in the hospital. On hearing the man’s story and how he was being helped, the State Minister got a Federal grant of two million Australian dollars for the hospital and the Palliative Care Centre was born.

Singapore Invitation

The rest as they say is history. In 1992, Rosalie was invited to Singapore to set up their Home Care Service by the Hospice Care Association (HCA), a position she held till 1999 when she became Medical Director of Dover Park Hospice. She was subsequently appointed as consultant to the Department of Palliative Care Medicine, a division of the National Cancer Centre in Singapore a post which she only relinquished early this year on her retirement. During her years in Singapore, Rosalie has been instrumental in galvanising the Palliative Care movement in Malaysia, providing consultancy services as well as training to the various organisations dotted around Malaysia.

Work with PPCS

The Perak Palliative Care Society (PPCS) is particularly indebted to Rosalie for her dedication and consultancy services and the training for its carers which she has unstintingly provided for the society.

When asked if she has ever found the work depressing, Rosalie said, “I have never found it to be so. Instead I have found it deeply moving, at times very sad, but always profoundly satisfying. I have loved my patients and have been loved by them.”

Those wishing to read Rosalie’s book ‘Soft Sift in an Hourglass’ are invited to purchase it at Perak Palliative Care Society, 14 Lebuh Woods, Canning Gardens. PPCS is a non-governmental agency funded entirely by donations. Those wishing to contribute may do so by cash or cheque made out to: Perak Palliative Care Society. Contact: 05-5464732, Email: ppcs95@tm.net.my.

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