Royal Australian Navy doctor, Lieutenant Holly Murphy, RAN (second from left), and her coalition colleagues treat a patient at the military hospital in Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Royal Australian Navy doctor, Lieutenant Holly Murphy, RAN (second from left), and her coalition colleagues treat a patient at the military hospital in Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. POIS Andrew Dakin

From Kingaroy to Kabul: Navy doctor still calls Burnett home

AS A Navy doctor in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Holly Murphy has dealt with two mass casualty incidents from terrorist attacks in the past three months alone.

Holly is deployed to Kabul, working in the Hamid Karzai International Airport military hospital.

It's her first land-based operation after five stints on Naval ships that took her to the Middle East, Madagascar, New Caledonia, Hawaii, Sri Lanka and Seychelles, just to name a few.

And despite having travelled all over the world with the Royal Australian Navy, she still calls the South Burnett home.

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Holly went to Kingaroy State High School from Years 9-12 while living with her aunt and uncle, Cheryl and John Dalton, in Wooroolin.

"I've travelled all around the world but I still consider Wooroolin home," Holly said from her base in Kabul.

"You can appreciate how close the community is, and it's always nice to come home and have that familiarity, which I've had with Wooroolin for the past 14-15 years."

Holly said she usually comes home twice a year to visit family and catch up with friends in Kingaroy.

"I'm usually in Wooroolin at Christmas time, but I missed this one because I'm here," she said.

The US-led NATO hospital that Holly is stationed at provides the military base with a range of services including routine and primary care, life-saving resuscitation, blood bank and trauma surgery.

She works alongside health professionals from 11 nations including Albania, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Norway, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Germany, Portugal and the US.

Holly said her colleagues were highly experienced and took the time to pass on their knowledge.

 

Royal Australian Navy doctor, Lieutenant Holly Murphy, RAN, in front of her coalition colleagues at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Royal Australian Navy doctor, Lieutenant Holly Murphy, RAN, in front of her coalition colleagues at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. POIS Andrew Dakin

"My ability to treat trauma has improved here. Not necessarily because we treat a lot of patients suffering trauma but because we do a lot of training with the surgeons," she said.

Holly said the two mass casualty incidents she'd dealt with since being in Kabul were the result of off-base terrorist attacks.

"You don't often get to see traumatic injuries from blasts due to terrorist attacks, so to be able to get experience treating those kinds of casualties and working in a trauma facility is exciting," she said.

In some ways however, she said her land-based role was less stressful than being a doctor on a warship at sea.

"I am used to being the highest ranking medical person on a ship at sea, having to make medical decisions with a team of two medics while often being hours from any help," she said.

"While on HMAS Adelaide I had to do a couple of helicopter evacuations in the Solomon Islands after civilians were attacked.

"In Kabul, I am supported by a team of highly qualified surgeons and doctors. I have a lot of professionals to learn from and I don't feel like I am ever on my own when making medical decisions," she said.

"You can spend up to a couple of weeks at a time on the ocean. As a doctor in the civilian world you don't treat family or friends, but on the ship everyone is family and friends and you have to treat them."

The 31-year-old can't pinpoint the exact moment she decided to become a doctor with the Defence Force.

"I always knew I wanted to do emergency work as a doctor, but I didn't want to get there in a hurry.

"This pathway has given me a lot of time and it's fantastic experience," she said.

"You feel like you're contributing to something greater than yourself.

"You make close friends when you serve at sea. You would never live, eat and work with people for three or six months at a time in your life outside of Navy so you get to know people really well," she said.

Her deployment in Afghanistan will be ending soon, but there are no signs of slowing down for Holly.

"This year my job is going to be at the submarine underwater unit at HMAS Penguin, near Balmoral Beach in Sydney.

"It's our specialist area in eastern Australian for our divers," she said.

No stranger to the field, Holly is dive-certified and recently ran a teaching program about dive medicine for her international colleagues in Kabul.

"I'll move out of this deployable position soon and then I should have a year of being at home," she said.

"After that, I haven't quite decided what I want to do."

Holly began full-time service with the Royal Australian Navy in 2016.

She was on HMAS Choules during Operation Queensland Assist after Cyclone Debbie, and deployed in HMAS Newcastle on Operation Manitou in the Middle East region in 2017.

In 2018 she participated in Exercise Croix du Sud in New Caledonia and sailed with HMAS Adelaide to Hawaii for Exercise RIMPAC and Indo Pacific Endeavour 2018.

Her current deployment, Operation Highroad, is the Australian contribution to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

Australia contributes about 300 defence personnel to the train, advise and assist mission.