New job just the tonic

• Dr Jaya and his wife Sue (centre) with clinic staff Arlene Byrne-Quinn (L) and Hilary Maguire (R). Photo by Justin Stahl.

FREMANTLE’S oldest medical practice, run by the affectionately known Dr Jaya, is closing its doors after almost 50 years.

But there’ll be no sleep-ins and leisurely walks down the beach for the energetic Dr Karutha Jayaraman who, despite his 80 years, is starting a new job next week at Bicton General Practice on Canning Highway.

His High Street surgery was an institution in the port city, particularly for its Italian, Portuguese and Greek communities.

“Fremantle is a great place to live and work…the most multicultural place in WA,” Dr Jaya said.

He credits this cultural melting pot for helping him get a start, particularly as early patients included seafood king Victor Paino who encouraged his family and friends to attend his clinic.

“My patients are like part of my family; I grew up with them and I’ve learnt a lot from them – we’re all geriatric now though,” he jokes with a wry smile.

As his patients grew older with more complex and time-consuming medical issues, and armed with an intimate knowledge of their medical histories that he still proudly keeps entirely on a paper-based system, Dr Jaya reluctantly stopped taking new patients around 10 years ago.

Renowned for his thoroughness, he says: “It’s good to have an overall view of the patient, not just one issue. As a GP you need to be involved in total care – I don’t think you can practise good medicine in five minutes, so I give them time.”

After finishing high school in Malaysia, Dr Jaya ignored his friends who all picked science degrees and chose an arts degree, but authorities wouldn’t allow him to make the switch when he changed his mind.

He moved to Australia, studying at UWA from 1957 to 1964, and interned at Royal Perth, King Edward and Princess Margaret hospitals, the latter where he met a young nurse Sue who he’d later marry.

While Dr Jaya devoted his career to helping others, his own life has had its heartbreak. His eldest daughter died at a young age from a brain aneurysm, while his youngest daughter, who’d followed him into medicine, succumbed to cancer soon after graduating.

Pressing on, but with their portraits taking pride of place in his small consulting room, he says his patients kept him going through the bad times.

by JUSTIN STAHL

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