At the height of COVID-19 when everyone else was hunkering down, a Boorowa doctor travelled thousands of kilometres throughout southern NSW providing vaccinations to those who needed them.
For Dr Nang Win, who runs the Boorowa Medical Centre, it’s what she does. When assistance is needed in rural and remote communities, she’s there. As the local GP or wearing one of her many other hats – including as practice principal, medical trainer and forensic examiner for southern NSW, mainly dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault and child protection – her helping hands seem always to be outstretched.
Originally from Burma, Dr Win came to Boorowa in 2014, initially to help in the one-doctor town. Before that, she had worked in nearby Young after moving to Australia in 2000.
“My father worked for the United Nations so we moved around a lot,” she said.
“I studied for my degree in Fiji and then went to work in Nauru before the refugees were there.
“After that, I was looking around for places to work … I just wanted to go somewhere where I was needed, so I came to help the doctor in Boorowa.”
When that doctor retired, Dr Win bought the practice. Today she still works 70 to 80-hour weeks and doesn’t really know what weekends are about – but she now has help from three other doctors including her brother.
“When you work in regional and rural communities you don’t have set hours,” she said.
“Patients will need you regardless of the hour. Especially with cases like child protection, you might be called out to do an examination at 3 am, but you still have to front up as GP the next day.”
Patients in outlying regions, many of who once lived in the area but have since moved into Canberra, still go back to see her.
When COVID hit, Dr Win extended her practice’s hours to cope with demand but when even that became too much for her dedicated team, they started a walk-in vaccination service on Saturdays and Sundays – in the Boorowa practice’s car park.
“We set it all up according to the regulations; everything was socially distanced, with rows of chairs for people so they could come in for their vaccinations,” she said.
“We were fortunate to have such a big car park.
“We also got a lot of help from the community when we started doing this. We certainly didn’t starve. People dropped by with scones and coffee – it was great.”
Dr Win said whatever vaccines she managed to source were used and she didn’t discriminate as to who could receive them.
But it didn’t end there. When she heard that people in outlying regional areas couldn’t get into town for the vaccinations, she went to them.
“Many people couldn’t travel so when we heard that, I said, ‘stay there, I’ll come to you’,” she said.
So she did. For months until the travel restrictions were lifted, her surgery received between 300 and 400 calls a day from as far afield as Goulburn and Binalong, down to Tumut and across to Jugiong.
Last year one of her vaccination stops turned out to be the Binalong pub after locals approached her saying they couldn’t get surgery appointments.
“It was just something we did,” she said.
“If I had extra doses, I’d take them to where they were needed. I didn’t want to waste one of them.”
Dr Win’s service to the community was recognised last week when, on a regular visit to Goulburn in her role as forensic examiner for southern NSW, Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman surprised her with the NSW Government Award for Community Service.
Dr Win said she had just been expecting her regular meeting with Mrs Tuckerman only to discover it had been specially arranged so she could be presented with the award from the Premier of NSW via Mrs Tuckerman.
“It was a real surprise for me,” Dr Win said. “I had no idea what was going on.”
Mrs Tuckerman said she was delighted to “recognise the community spirit, hard work and dedication to our local community of Dr Win”.
“We don’t need to be told again how tough the past 12 months have been but Dr Win’s contribution, particularly during the COVID-19 vaccination effort, has not been forgotten,” she said.
Mrs Tuckerman said Dr Win “went above and beyond” during the pandemic, “often coordinating hundreds of people to be administered their vaccines”.
“She also worked late nights in the administrative work to secure doses for the Boorowa community and surrounds. It is known that Boorowa secured a greater than 95 per cent vaccination rate very early during the effort,” she said.
“Once this was achieved, Dr Win focused on her efforts in continuing to source and supply vaccinations for the surrounding regions including hosting outreach clinics for the surrounding region in Goulburn and remote villages.”
More information about the NSW Government Community Service Award is available on the website.