The
Inspiration
Project

WITH JARRED FANTOM

GUEST Kim Oates

Kim Oates

Episode 37

Kim Oats: Episode Description

On this episode of ‘The Inspiration Project’, ACC Graduate and Podcast Producer Jarred Fantom talks to Professor Kim Oats about how he came to faith, what lessons he learned in school from his teachers, why he wanted to become a doctor and enter into the field of Paediatrics, and what does it mean to be an effective Christian role model. Plus so much more!

Among other things Kim shares:

  • What does it mean to be an effective Christian role model?
  • How Kim came to faith in God
  • Important life lessons from his school teachers
  • Why Kim wanted to become a doctor and enter into the field of Paediatrics
  • Kim’s role in the child abuse field
  • Three pieces of advice for a young person struggling, starting out or just needing a boost
  • How has Kim’s faith played an important role in his career
  • Why Fear of failure actually inspires Kim

Kim Oates: Episode Transcript

Sponsor Announcement
This podcast is sponsored by Australian Christian College, a network of schools committed to student wellbeing, character development, and academic improvement.

Introduction
Welcome to The Inspiration Project, where well-known Christians share their stories, to inspire young people in their faith and life. Here’s your host, Brendan Corr.

Brendan Corr
Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of The Inspiration Project. In this episode, we’re departing from our usual routine, in as much as, the person who’ll be undertaking the interview is one of the alumni of Australian Christian College. He also happens to be the background producer of The Inspiration Project, and the one responsible for getting all the technology right, and making all of the arrangements. Mr Jarred Fantom has been a past student of ACC Marsden Park, and we’re so thankful for the work that he is doing to bring this project to you, and he has the pleasure of speaking with our special guest today. Over to you, Jarred.

Jarred Fantom
Professor Kim, absolute pleasure to welcome you to The Inspiration Project.

Kim Oats
Thanks, Jay. About 50 years, not that long. This makes me … obviously, I’m very old, aren’t I? It makes me sound old.

Jarred Fantom
No way. How are you doing today?

Kim Oats
I’m pretty good, thanks.

Jarred Fantom
Good to hear. So Professor Kim, are you able to share, just to start off with, how you came to the faith, and then we’ll dive into all the other stuff.

Kim Oats
Yeah, okay, thanks. So a friend of mine said the other night, “I wish I’d have had a dramatic conversion,” and he said, “I wish I’d have been a criminal, and suddenly saw the light, and became a Christian.” And he said, “I’m sorry I can’t say that,” and I guess I feel similar and I’ve thought that myself in the past. We had a Christian family. My mother was a very strong influence. My grandfather was a minister in the Congregational Church, and when we moved to live in Padstow this was about in 1948 it was a developing suburb, lots of bush, and there was one tiny little church there, called The Independent Church, and there was an Independent Sunday School, and when I was 10, somebody came to The Independent Sunday School, gave a talk to people about being a Christian, and then said, “Does anybody want to become a Christian?” And I thought, “Oh well, I might as well,” put my hand up. So a few of us boys went off in the corner and had a chat with this bloke, and he said he must have prayed over us. I can’t remember the details, but the thing I remember really clearly is that it must have been a Sunday School teacher who said, “Kim, you’ve got a lot of energy. Use it for the Lord.” I think that was code for Kim, you’re a really naughty boy, and, but anyhow I’ve never forgotten that, but the thing that was really helpful, I know whether that was a matter of conversion or not, but it was a point, I was only 10, but the really interesting thing was that he gave me a Scripture Union card. In those days, I don’t know if they had notes, but it had a little card with a Bible verse, a little Bible passage, to read every day. You had to look up the Bible for the day on the card, you’d read the passage, you’d pray a prayer, and then you’d put a little pin through the card to show you’d done it that day, and that was a really useful introduction to Bible reading, and I’ve been reading the Bible daily since then, and occasionally I forget, but pretty much since then- and usually with Scripture Union, and I’m back with Scripture Union at the moment, and it’s very good. It’s all online now, of course. So that happened, and then I think another really key thing was, we had a thing at church later on I went to the Methodist church in Padstow my mother was running the Christian Endeavour Group, and so we were part of that, we were young teenagers then, and they had a very strong commitment in learning Bible verses, and we had to learn verses each week, we’d get up and say a Bible it was very helpful. So all my quotes from the Bible are in the King James version, but I did learn a lot of verses in those days. The other useful bit of Bible learning I’d forgotten about, was back in the Independent Sunday School, there were about 12 or 14 boys in our class, and we decided for the Sunday School anniversary, that we would stand up and recite one verse from Isaiah 53, “Who has believed our report?” And so each boy was allocated a verse. The first week we came back, I was muggins, was the only one who’d remembered his verse and done the work. So this went on for several weeks, and a week before the anniversary, no one else had learnt their verses, and the teacher said to me, “Kim, you’re going to have to recite the whole chapter.” So I thought, “Oh well,” so I had to do that-

Jarred Fantom
Pressure.

Kim Oats
… so that was yeah. My mum and dad were there at the anniversary, and she said, “We held our breath.”

Jarred Fantom
Were you scared yourself, to actually memorise these verses?

Kim Oats
I suppose so. I can’t remember. It was a long time ago.

Jarred Fantom
Do you have a life verse?

Kim Oats
Not really. Well, let your life shine before men, Mathew 5:16, was an important verse in growing up. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. When I was Chief Executive of the Children’s Hospital under lots of pressures, I had the verse, young men grow weary, let you rise up on eagles’ wings-

Jarred Fantom
That’s my life verse, Isaiah 40.

Kim Oats
That was a really good verse. So that was in my desk drawer. I had it printed out, and it was in my desk drawer, and I’m sitting at the desk and if things were difficult, I’d just pull it out and have a little read of that. The other one, I’ve just remembered, the other one, this is really the verse that the kids used to joke with me. They’d say, “Dad, this must be the family verse.” I used to write it inside Bibles and things we’d give them, and it was Philippians 4:8, what sort of things are good, endure, lovely, and think on these things.

Jarred Fantom
Another great verse. What age were you, Dr Kim, when you knew who you wanted to become a doctor, or did you know from early on?

Kim Oats
Well I was probably about 16, and we were sort of like dad was a tradesman, we didn’t have a lot of money, and we didn’t know anything about medicine. No one in our family, either side of our family, had ever been to a university, and so I used to overhear these conversations from my parents. This sounds silly, really but I hear them say, “It’s a pity Kim can’t be the doctor,” and mum said, “Why?” And they said, “Well, you’ve got to be rich to be a doctor. You’ve got to buy a practise, you’ve got to pay for your university, all that sort of stuff.” So I grew up with that feeling, and then, when I was about 16, I thought, “Well, this isn’t impossible,” so I had a good think about it. I knew there were Commonwealth Scholarships around, so you could pay your university fees, and I was in my fourth year at high school, it’s a five year high school course, so I said to dad, who was gardening I can see it happening “I want to be a doctor. I’m going to go to university. I’ll work, pay for all my textbooks. I’ll get a scholarship to pay for my fees, but I’d really like to live at home and be fed for six years as a student,” and of course my parents were happy about that. My dad said to me, “Well,” he didn’t say it like this, but he said, “Okay, as long as you don’t become a missionary and get eaten by a lion,” which was a strange response. So, when people say, “Why didn’t you become a missionary?” That’s the reason.

Jarred Fantom
What was it that got you across the line to say, “No, I’m going to become a doctor, no matter what,” at age 16?

Kim Oats
I think it’s just rebellious. When you’re told you can’t do something then you want to do it, and so that was an option that wasn’t available to me, so I thought it would be good.

Jarred Fantom
So you mentioned that you grew up with not very much.

Kim Oats
Well, we were okay, but we weren’t… we didn’t know any rich people.

Jarred Fantom
What were some of the lessons that your mother and father taught you, that you still remember to this day?

Kim Oats
Well, mum was a strong Christian influence. We were careful, we were frugal, which I think is very good. We knew the value of things, that was very helpful. They were a loving, caring family. As a paediatrician, I know the importance of parents and role models. They were very helpful role models. I think they were the main things. We had a happy, uncomplicated life. We didn’t go to the theatre. We went to a restaurant once. I remember going to a restaurant once.

Jarred Fantom
Was it a good restaurant?

Kim Oats
It was Chinese, the local Chinese place down here. There wasn’t any choice in those days.

Jarred Fantom
No, can’t imagine. What does it mean, Dr Kim, to actually be an effective, Godly, role model? What does that entail?

Kim Oats
Oh gosh, I don’t know, because I don’t know whether I am. You just try. I think reading the Bible regularly is really important, and praying is really important, and being part of a church community is important, and those things are all very helpful to me. We have a fabulous church community at the moment and a wonderful home group, so that’s all help. It’s a constant battle, isn’t it? You’ve got to keep thinking and reading. I hang out with lots of people that aren’t Christians, and I think that’s good in a way. Most of my friends, probably the majority of my friends and a great majority of my colleagues aren’t Christian, but at least I’m not living in a microcosm of Christians that don’t get a chance to see anybody else.

Jarred Fantom
I want to take you back a little bit to your school environment, how you grew up in school. Were you a smart kid, academic, did you struggle academically?

Kim Oats
I was a pain in the neck, I think, probably. I went to Canterbury High School. It was a selective school at that stage, and I did well there. I knew I could get a Commonwealth Scholarship, because I was always at the top. I shouldn’t say but I always did fairly well, and I knew that our school always got at least 20 Commonwealth Scholarships, so I knew I’d get one. I didn’t have to worry too much about that.

Jarred Fantom
Did you have any teachers that you remember that gave you profound lessons at all?

Kim Oats
Not really. We skylarked around and mucked up a lot. We had a really good French teacher, who had very strong political, almost socialist views, and he was quite influential in some of the things he taught us. I can’t remember much of the French, but there were a lot of life lessons he told us, and I had a very good another Christian teacher, the teacher who was the nominal supervisor for the Inter-Christian School Fellowship, ICF, and he was good, too. Yeah, school in those days. We just got through it. It was fun.

Jarred Fantom
And you went on to university, and studied at university for how many years?

Kim Oats
Sydney University, so that was a six year course. I think Sydney University was the only place offering medical school at that stage, and the year I started, which was 1961 long time ago New South Wales University had just started its medical course, so not having any medical role models, and not knowing anybody, I thought, “Well it might be a bit risky to go to a new medical school,” and of course, it wasn’t hard to get into university then. Anybody could get into university. You didn’t have to do brilliantly to enrol in medicine, you just turned up. As long as you have five basic passes, five out of six basic passes and a Leaving Certificate, which is the equivalent of the HSC now, you could get in. We had nearly 600 people in the first year, and a friend of mine, when we were residents together, said, “How did you get into medicine? What made you decide?” He said, “Oh,” he was a keen surfer. He said, “I was down surfing with some mates, and I said to them, ‘I’m not sure what I want to do.’ One of my mates said, ‘Oh, I’m doing medicine.’ He said, ‘Oh, why don’t you do that?’ He said, ‘Enrolment’s tomorrow.’ He said, ‘Oh, okay.‘” So he went up too. But then it was wholesale slaughter the first two years, so roughly 300 passed the first year, and maybe 120-150 of those passed second year, so there were only about a hundred of us left in the second year that had got through without repeating. Quite a few people repeated. I think if you repeated and failed the year twice, you were gone, but now the anxiety is at school leaving. Then, the anxiety was, will you get through, will you pass, especially second year, which was terrifying everyday. I was very anxious. Really worried. I wasn’t a brilliant medical student at all. I was in love, which occupied 90% of my brain.

Jarred Fantom
The same woman you are…

Kim Oats
Yeah, yeah, I’m still in love. Same person.

Jarred Fantom
Wow, how about that? Worth it.

Kim Oats
It wasn’t collegiate and helpful and friendly, because you knew that if there were three of you sitting on a bench, you knew two of them, statistically, wouldn’t get through, so people were reluctant to share any knowledge or study together, or just running facts, because that might give someone an advantage …

Jarred Fantom
Competition.

Kim Oats
… over somebody else. It was terrible. It’s good now.

Jarred Fantom
Yeah, they encourage it now.

Kim Oats
Yeah, and the teaching is fabulous now, and the students are pretty good. I still teach at universities, fabulous people.

Jarred Fantom
So I’m going to ask you a couple more questions revolving around that. So firstly, we’ll go to what did you love most about being in medical school, and then we’ll transition to another question outside of that.

Kim Oats
I didn’t love much about it at all, actually. Well, that’s not true. I was worried about failing a year, because I was in love, and in those days nobody got married, and it got good. We didn’t see a patient until our fourth year, and so it was all a bit of a mystery. They were telling us stuff that didn’t make a lot of sense. We were learning anatomy and physiology and biochemistry, but it didn’t gel for me, but the last three years were clinical years, and that was exciting, and I enjoyed that immensely. It was fun, we were seeing patients, it was good. Amazing. I was just blown away by what I was learning and seeing. This kid from Padstow didn’t know much about the world. It was phenomenal.

Jarred Fantom
I can imagine being in that room, and just having your mind blown by something very, very new. It’s happened to me on many occasions. Why paediatrics specifically?

Kim Oats
Well, the short answer is because the food at the Children’s Hospital was really good, and the background to that is that I had no idea. The only medical graduate I knew was our local GP, so I thought all there was was to do general practise, and general practise is a really good thing to do, and I was going to be a general practitioner. My idea was, I did two years as a resident at St George Hospital, then went to Children’s Hospital for a year to be a GP that saw kids, and for some reason, I did the professorial term when I was there, and the professor took a liking to me for some strange reason, and I’d already booked a passage on a ship for Robyn, my wife, and our little child, at that stage, to go to England. I had no plans. I thought I’d just go to England and get off the boat and see what happened. And so the professor then, towards the end of the year, said, “Kim, tell me about your future plans?” So I told him this fabulous plan I had. I booked a passage on a ship as the ship’s doctor, and he said, “That’s a really dumb plan,” and so he said to me, “You stay here next year as my registrar, as professorial registrar for the year, and I’ll guarantee you a good job in London,” and he got me a job the year after that at a teaching hospital, St Mary’s, in London. By that stage, you’re committed to doing paediatrics. Anyhow, getting back to the food. I wasn’t sure, because I had this exciting plan mapped out. Robyn wasn’t that keen on being on the ship, so she was quite relieved. This wasn’t really a matter of deep prayer, I don’t think. I remember sitting in a dining room at the Children’s Hospital where the food was fantastic in those days for the doctors, and knowing that the food in England was pretty bad in those days, and I thought, “Well, I could take the prof’s offer, and eat this food for another year, I suppose.” In fact, that was one of the turning points, so the food was a factor.

Jarred Fantom
Wow. That’s hilarious, honestly, I haven’t heard someone say that a turning point in decision-making was because of food, especially for a doctor, something so high up.

Kim Oats
In people’s lives, things just happen. Very few people have a plan they follow. I’ve never had much of a plan, but opportunities pop up, and you take them, and you pray about them … probably should more than I do, but often do, and they crop up.

Jarred Fantom
What would you say to a young person at the moment, that is just about to leave school, and has all of these opportunities in front of them, but doesn’t know which one to take?

Kim Oats
Don’t look for riches. Don’t be seduced by making a lot of money.

Jarred Fantom
Why not?

Kim Oats
Because you always want more. It’s not particularly satisfying. I say to some of my surgical friends, “Why do you want a bigger Mercedes? What’s the matter with the one you’ve got?” Anyhow, don’t be seduced by income, and try to do something that’s going to be useful and help people. Medicine’s a fabulous way to do that, and that’s a wonderful privilege and opportunity. Not everybody can do a job that’s helpful to people, but if there’s an opportunity to get a job where you can be helpful, I think that’s something to aim for.

Jarred Fantom
I want to ask you, Dr Kim, how has your faith in Christ played a role in your work, and have you found it difficult to be amongst people that aren’t Christian, in such a medical…

Kim Oats
Yeah, I haven’t found it difficult at all.

Jarred Fantom
Why is that?

Kim Oats
I worked with just wonderful colleagues, who all had the same aim, of trying to do a good job in medicine, and those of us who’ve been involved in research and writing as well, so I’ve been privileged to have wonderful colleagues, Christian and non-Christian. I don’t think it’s been ethically difficult. I’ve got a friend who’s an obstetrician. It’s been difficult for him, when he was training, because he was asked to do abortions. It hasn’t been that ethically difficult, and there’s been a core of Christian friends, so about over 30 years ago, a group of paediatricians around Australian only about a dozen of us, maximum, less actually, half of them were professors got together and formed a paediatric prayer group, and we’d meet once a year at the annual College meeting, just have breakfast together, and twice a year we’d share a prayer note we’d just send around a circular by mail in those days, but not since, and that’s been a very supportive group. And as well as that, we could just contact each other if we had a problem or wanted to, and one of my friends in Western Australia was having terrible trouble with a particular person at one stage. He’d done some dreadful things. So I’d sent out a little message to prayer groups, and prayed for the terrible situation, and I rang him the moment he rang me, and he said, “Kim, have you forgiven him?” And I thought, “Gosh, I should have,” and that really lifted a burden. Just that little so that’s the value of some Christian friends. This person said to me something I should have known, but I was so angry, I didn’t, and he said, “Oh yes, I forgave this guy. He’s still a jerk, but I forgave him.” That was very helpful. You don’t have to hang out with Christians constantly, but a core of Christian friends that remind you of the principles are very helpful.

Jarred Fantom
I find especially, I think, in the secular world, the Bible talks about being in the world, but not being of the world as well, which is a very important lesson for young people to learn, and try and distinguish between them, which I’ve found over my 23 year period, to be quite challenging at times. I want to go back a little bit, because you mentioned when you were in uni, that you fell in love, so I just want to ask you how you met your now wife, and what attracted you to her?

Kim Oats
High school. I was in high school.

Jarred Fantom
High school, wow.

Kim Oats
Yeah, it was in my final year at high school, and she came to our church. She was about nine months older than me. Very sophisticated. I was over-awed by this very stylish, sophisticated girl. But anyhow, we had a church house party, the first one we’d ever had, and we became good friends, and we stayed friends ever since, year. It’s been really good. I’ve just been blessed to have such a fabulous wife. So I didn’t have any girlfriends.

Jarred Fantom
So how long were you friends before you realised that she was the one?

Kim Oats
Not long, not long. Well, these things just develop slowly. You know, you’ve got a girlfriend, it’s exciting, and it would have been probably less than a year, I think, if I remember, starting to think, “Gee, this is I’m not particularly interested in anybody else.” We never split up or broke up, we never had fights, and as I mentioned before, students didn’t get married in those days, so we just got married as soon as I graduated. As soon as I finished, at the end of my final year, we got engaged the year before, at the end of the final year, we got married.

Jarred Fantom
Wow.

Kim Oats
And then, of course, in those days, marriage was good, but the interns or the junior residents as we were called then, used to work incredibly hard, dangerous, ridiculous hours, so I’d only be home every second or third night, so I didn’t see her much, and so that was good for a marriage and a relationship we didn’t have time to have arguments but that was dangerous for patients, which I now know, because I’m much involved in patient safety education. It was good fun, and she’s just been so incredibly supportive in anything that I’ve done in the few things I’ve achieved, it wouldn’t have happened without her support and advice. She’s good.

Jarred Fantom
What’s been the most profound lesson that Robyn has taught you, that has helped you in your career, and working with kids?

Kim Oats
That’s hard, I’m not sure. Well, Robyn did a course around the time we were engaged, just before she did a course to teach severely disabled children, and that certainly influenced me to develop an interest in kids with disabilities. So that was a strong influence, and that’s a professional interest we have in common, and there was no education for those kids before. Kids with very low IQs, nobody bothered about them, so that was good. Yeah, she’s taught me patience, tolerance, all sorts of stuff.

Jarred Fantom
And you’ve got how many grandchildren now?

Kim Oats
Nine. Three children, nine grandchildren.

Jarred Fantom
Nine grandchildren, 50 year career in paediatrics, and what’s been the biggest challenge, do you think, being a paediatrician for that long?

Kim Oats
Oh no, no difficult challenge, there’s just been so many exciting opportunities, and I’ve had lots of different careers within paediatrics. They’ve all been good. I’ve been an academic, and writer, and clinician, and researcher, and administrator.

Jarred Fantom
So I want to shift the conversation a little bit, and ask you a quick few other questions. What are some things that inspire you to be better in your life?

Kim Oats
Well, if I said fear of failure, you’d laugh, but actually, anxiety’s one of the things that pushes you forward.

Jarred Fantom
Why is that?

Kim Oats
Well I’m not sure why. You grow up thinking, “Can I do things?” Challenges, anxiety, help. Colleagues have been inspirational. I was inspired by Albert Schweitzer as a young man, as many people are. I remember my grandmother gave me a children’s biography, a children’s story, about Albert Schweitzer’s life. I thought, “Oh, this is pretty good.” It was very good actually. I remember, he became a medical student later in life. He was a musician, I think, at first, and he studied every spare moment, and he’d be sitting at the table and he’d have his notes next to him, and I thought, “That’s very efficient,” so when I was studying, I thought every spare moment I had, I’d emulate Albert Schweitzer, only in that way. But of course, 90% of my brain was thinking about this lovely girl that I was more interested in, so that’s why I only blossomed as a scholar after I graduated.

Jarred Fantom
Do you remember your first encounter with your first patient?

Kim Oats
No, no. I remember lots of patient encounters, but not the very first one, no. I remember my first encounter with a dead patient in second year, because we were taken to the Anatomy Room, first year-

Jarred Fantom
Oh, that would have been interesting.

Kim Oats
And those days, we spent all of second year anatomy was the big thing in second. We would have spent at least a third of the year doing anatomy, dissecting, and a fair bit in third year as well. But day one, we’re taken into a room, we’re in groups of 10, and there are about 20 or 30 corpses, naked corpses, on the table. This was shattering to see. These real people. One student just went splat, and collapsed on the floor and fainted, but I don’t know how I got onto that. That’s not really so that was my first encounter with my first dead patient. I’ve learnt a lot from patients. So much. One child, severely disabled from birth, very handicapped, and his mum was a young, I thought, a young lady who couldn’t cope, and gosh, I underestimated her, and her husband wasn’t very helpful. He never came. He never visited, and I thought, “This lady’s not going to make it. She’s not going to cope.” Anyhow, the child died eventually, as we knew he would, but she was phenomenal, and she just taught me about coping and accepting, and her husband’s family blamed her for producing a defective child, and they split up. She’s kept in touch. It must be well over 30, maybe 40 years, Rosheen. I know her, and I know her daughter Gee, you learn a lot from patients, and you mustn’t underestimate people, too. I thought I knew her, but I didn’t know her at all. She taught me.

Jarred Fantom
There’s a lot of listening involved in getting to know them. Takes quite a bit of time, I think, as well.

Kim Oats
Yeah, listening’s good.

Jarred Fantom
But that’s a powerful story. Do you have any more stories like that? Some other patients that stick out in your mind?

Kim Oats
Lots, I suppose, but I can’t think of any cold. You have to give me a bit of time. Oh, the most difficult one. I wrote this up in a journal. I was a junior resident, and in those days, the consultants, the senior doctors, didn’t talk to the public patients; they were called public patients then ones that didn’t pay. And once a week, if families wanted to talk to the doctor to find out what happened to their loved one, or their husband, or their child, they’d come to the front of the hospital, and they’d page the junior resident, the most junior person on the team, and the junior resident would turn up, and there’d be several families waiting there, and one by one, you’d tell them what was wrong with the person. We’d operated on this man, who was maybe only about 50, and it was clear when the surgeon opened up, there was cancer everywhere. The surgeon just said, “Can’t do a thing,” closed him up. So a couple of days later they didn’t talk to the parents. A couple of days later, I got the call. My time to go up to the front of the hospital and see this lady. So I had to tell her. It was the first time I’d ever done this. I was 23. I hadn’t been a graduate for long. Had to tell her what we’d found and what was going to happen to her husband. It was terrible. That was a difficult moment. My eyes welled up with tears, and of course, hers did as well, but I think it helped. I think the fact that I was emotional probably helped her as well. Here we are, 40 years later, I’m still. So yeah, there’ve been some interesting, and there’ve been some wonderful moments as well. Just kids that have got better that you wouldn’t think of. One child, I didn’t know what was wrong, and he had a high fever, and it just wouldn’t go away, and we did all the tests and everything, and he wasn’t sick enough to be in intensive care, but once again, Saturday morning, to do my Saturday morning round, and “I don’t know what on earth’s wrong with this child,” so I went over to his bed and I put my hand on his head I hope I washed my hands first, but I think I did. I put my hand in his and prayed over this kid. I thought, “Oh well, I’m a Christian. Got all the medical science that I have, but I might as well have prayer as well,” and yeah, the fever went. The kid got better. I can’t say that my prayer fixed it, but it may have, and God might have decided to do it then. Who knows? My view of that is that God can do stuff, and if He wants to do it, He will, and if you’re a doctor and you’re a Christian, it’s an extra therapeutic tool you have. So we had a very good group of chaplains at that hospital, and a chapel, and the chaplains cooperated very well, and I knew them quite well, but that had in the front of the chapel on the lectern, and pen and a notebook, and parents could come along and write in the notebook prayers, requesting prayer, and the chaplains would, every morning, pray for what was in the book. And so, when I was doing rounds or wandering around the hospital, when I had a moment, I’d pop in, just pop in quickly, and read some of the prayers. It was beautiful.

Jarred Fantom
What could you say, three pieces of advice, that you could give to a young person, who’s just starting out, struggling, or needing a boost in their life currently?

Kim Oats
Well that’s a difficult one, isn’t it? I’d need a warning about that. Well, things change and circumstances change, and these days, there are so many different opportunities and different jobs, so you don’t have to be in a rut or the same thing all your life, as you’ve found in your life. Don’t be seduced by the dollar, and try to associate with good people. I think that’s really important. Hanging out with dubious people is potentially attractive but potentially quite serious as well, so try and hang out with some good people.

Jarred Fantom
The Bible does talk about who you hang around is who you will become, and it’s very important to associate yourself with like minded people as well.

Kim Oats
Like, you saw the light and that man

Jarred Fantom
Saw the light. What we were talking about before, be in the world but not of it, which is a challenge in yourself. But child abuse, you work a lot in this area, which is quite impacting as well. Why did you want to, specifically, focus on this area?

Kim Oats
I got there by accident, in a way, so I was always interested in families and the social aspects of paediatrics. It was one of the things I liked about paediatrics. You’re dealing with mums and dads and kids, and all the things that make them tick. So I had a bit of an interest in it. I hadn’t seen many abused children. I’d seen quite a few neglected children, and written a paper about them when I was a registrar. Then, on the way back from training overseas for a few years in London and Boston, I called in at the child abuse guru in Denver, and had a chat to him, and I thought this might be something would be good to do. So when I get home, as the most junior staff specialist. I was full-time employed by the hospital as a specialist, the youngest of them all, and child abuse this was in the early ’70s child abuse was just starting to be talked about. It was only described in a journal in 1962. Sexual abuse wasn’t even described until 1977. Doctors were denying it, and people weren’t recognising it anyhow. So the senior physician at the Quarterly Physicians’ Meeting, and I go to my first one as the new boy on the block, said, “Look, I’m starting to get these abused children. I don’t like them. I don’t want to have anything to do with them, and I think young Oats, he should take them on,” so I just picked it up, it was dropped in my lap, because nobody else wanted it. I’d never done it full-time. I did lots of other things as well, but I saw a lot. We had a Child Protection Unit. I saw a lot of the kids. I had colleagues that did, and I thought, “Well, if you’re going to try and understand this problem, help these children, help the families as well, because the families generally don’t abuse their kids because they want to bash them up. They just aren’t coping,” and so I thought, “I can look after this, but I’ve got to study it as well.” So, as well as treating it, we documented things and wrote papers, and the easy way to become an authority is to get in in a new area, so it didn’t take me long to become an authority in the area, because it was an area nobody knew much about.

Jarred Fantom
So how do you know if a child is actually being either physically or sexually abused?

Kim Oats
From the physical point of view, there are injuries that are just very specific, extremely likely.

Jarred Fantom
In the emotional sense as well.

Kim Oats
The physical injuries are often quite telling. Not always, but you can often tell by them.

Kim Oats
Babies of three months can’t roll, so when a kid comes along covered in bruises, with a broken arm, and somebody says, “Oh, he rolled out of the cot,” he can’t roll out of a cot at three months, and you certainly don’t get bruises. In fact, we studied kids that fell out of bed at Children’s Hospital, several hundred over them over a long period, and injuries were incredibly uncommon. So some injuries are typical. The physically abused children are often too young to tell you. The sexually abused children, it’s the opposite. The story the child tells is the most important thing, because the physical signs are often not there, or are unreliable. But children don’t tell lies about it. People used to say they did, and we did a big study in Denver when I was living there, looking at false accusations. I think 1.4% of child abuse allegations by children, 1.4% were false, so 98.6% were true.

Jarred Fantom
So how do you distinguish between what’s true and what’s not?

Kim Oats
Well, you can often tell, just by it’s corroborated by another person’s helpfulness. These stories often have a ring of truth about them. The child is often very reluctant to tell, because they’ve been threatened, “Don’t tell anybody. Don’t tell anybody what happened,” because terrible things have happened, so they haltingly and fearfully. They use childlike language, and they’re quite emotional when they reveal this, and sometimes they don’t do it for years. So people would say, “Oh, they didn’t tell anybody about it for 15 years, obviously making it up,” but that’s not true at all. It sometimes takes 15 years or some other trigger to pluck up the courage to tell somebody, so yeah, it’s a big phenomenon. And it’s been around for a long, long time. I remember giving a talk at Wesley Centre one time, a public talk about child abuse, including sexual abuse, and there was a line of ladies came up to me afterwards, one by one, and they queued up to have a chat, and they all said the same thing, “What you were talking about happened to me when I was a child, and I’ve never told anybody, until I heard about it today,” so it’s been around for a long time, and it’s hard to deal with, and a lot of doctors don’t want to have anything to do with it, and some do it very well. Now there’s a lot of expertise around. It’s an area I haven’t been in for the last 15 or 20 years, in a hands-on sort of way.

Jarred Fantom
You must have heard some pretty crazy stories, pretty impacting stories, as well, mentally and emotionally as well. What strategies did you use to help not get too affected by it?

Kim Oats
I think, Robyn, again’s very helpful. Great support at home, and I think the people who do child abuse purely need a medal. I always did it in my spare time. I did lots of other stuff, so you get your satisfaction when you treat a child with meningitis, they’re nearly dead, they get better, it’s wonderful. It’s fabulous. So some of the things you can do in paediatrics is rewarding, and seeing your intellectual and emotional rewards in other ways. But I think people who work full-time well, in fact, I really think people probably shouldn’t work full-time, but should do something else half the time, something that’s more hopeful, and many people have chosen that, to combine their careers.

Jarred Fantom
So what has research shown you, that is the best way to help kids that have been abused, as well as the parents at the same time?

Kim Oats
Well, we haven’t done much research on that, because nobody is really most of the research is what happens to them, seeing them 10, 15, 20 years later, and the problem doesn’t go away. They have a lot of emotional problems. It’s a family problem. I think part of it’s believing in the child. Physical abuse is helping the parents to be better parents, not about removing the child. That’s really unnecessary. We had a really good programme for physically abused children, where we plugged a foster grandparent into the mum. Volunteers who we trained, who would visit the mum, not to monitor their child rearing, not to ask what they were doing, but to give the mother mothering, because many of these people had very empty lives, they’d never loved growing up themselves. They have a baby. They think, “Oh, at last, somebody who’s going to love me.” The baby screams, it’s not loving me, is it, and so the kids get injured. So we’d plug support into the parents, to help them. We call them foster grandmothers, because they’re actually like foster mums for the parents. So there’s various ways, but it’s a sad area, but at least people are talking about it and know about it now.

Jarred Fantom
Just want to thank you, Dr Kim, for your time today, and sharing your testimony, and all your stories as well. I’ve been absolutely delighted to hear them as well, from my perspective, so thank you so much for coming on The Inspiration Project.

Kim Oats
It’s a pleasure. Thanks, Jay.

Kim Oates

About Kim Oates

Kim Oates is an Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics, a former CEO of the Children's Hospital at Westmead, a former President of the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and an elected Founding Member of the International Academy of Quality and Safety.