In the final week of the e-Record’s series looking at the work of women in the Church, Archdiocese of Perth Communications and Media Office Editor Jamie O’Brien speaks with clinical haematologist and oncologist, Dr Angela Alessandri, as she shares her faith journey as a medical professional and active woman in the Church.
Be kind to yourself – this is one of the big messages for women from Perth doctor Angela Alessandri, who recently spoke about her life and role as a woman in the Church as part of this month’s focus on the work of women in the Church.
The clinical paediatric haematologist and oncologist, originally from the Bassendean parish but now a long-time parishioner of St Cecelia’s Floreat/Wembley, Dr Alessandri says that, for her, there is something very comforting about the weekly sojourn at church.
“It’s really a place of re-connecting and looking at what’s happened for the week and how I’ve been living my life that week, so I’ve always found it a place to really connect with God.”
Over the years, she says that’s developed into a more practical way, such as being a Eucharistic Minister, reading or being a commentator.
More recently, Dr Alessandri has also been part of the Archdiocesan consultative committee which, she says, has been a very interesting role.
“I’ve been very privileged to be part of that group,” she said.
“It’s been wonderful to get to meet the Archbishop and to get to work with some really wonderful people who are very committed, with so much faith and goodwill, and that’s been a lovely part of my connection to the Church.”
“Going to church isn’t about just being part of the congregation, it’s about participating, so I think the participation of women is really a wonderful thing.
“It is also good to bring young people – both men and women – into the Church and I think that, just by participating, it makes you more part of the structure- rather than just sitting in the pew.”
Born in Mount Lawley to parents Phyllis (nee Sakich) and Oliviero Alessandri, Dr Alessandri grew up attending St Peter’s Primary School Bedford, before Mercedes College later and then entering medical school at the University of Western Australia in 1983.
After completing her medical degree, she trained in general paediatrics followed by paediatric haematology and oncology.
The final four years of Dr Alessandri’s training were undertaken in Vancouver, Canada.
While there, she was awarded the Laura and Greg Norman National Childhood Cancer Foundation Fellowship to complete two years of laboratory research, completing a Masters in Bioethics from Monash University during this period.
Returning to Perth in 2001, Dr Alessandri took up the role as consultant clinical paediatric haematologist/oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital, becoming Head of Department in April 2012, but is currently on leave from this position.
As part of her role at PMH, Dr Alessandri is also very involved in the research and clinical ethics activities of the hospital and is currently the principle investigator on a study aimed at improving the health and well-being of parents of children with cancer.
Dr Alessandri went on to speak about her faith journey, and her views on the role and work of women in the Church today.
“When I think about my journey, both within the Church and within my career, there have been lots of different people who have been important to me.
“I think it has taken me a bit of time to recognise the way in which other people work, whether they’re male or female – I say, look at what works for them, and incorporate that into your life.
“But I think it’s also about being kind to yourself.
“I think, in general, there are a lot of women who expect an awful lot of themselves and expect that they have to lead this perfect, superhuman-type life.
“As you get older, you realise that it’s just not achievable and I think you’re probably not achieving your potential because you’re so worried about doing so much for so many people.”
“To remember that we are perfectly imperfect but to keep doing the best we can.
“To aim at being happy rather than being perfect, and I think that way, you end up being the best person you can be.
“And by being the best person you can be, you are the best role model.”
As an adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at Notre Dame University, Fremantle, Dr Alessandri is also currently teaching in the Physician Wellness Program.
Having published several scientific papers in the areas of paediatric haematology and oncology and bioethics, she is also a member of the Bioethics Research Strategy Group of the North American-based Children’s Oncology Group.
Dr Alessandri continued talking about her faith journey, saying that a lot of what she does is about life and death and, even though 80 per cent of the children she treats get better, she still spends a lot of time with the 20 per cent of the kids who don’t.
“You (as a doctor) spend a lot of time at crises points with families even if the kids do survive.
“I think that it’s during those ups and downs and those very intimate times with the families where my faith is very important to me.”
So how does a doctor pray?
For me, says Dr Alessandri, it’s about saying thank you for what she has.
“I have a lot to be grateful for.”