Dr Joan Ahern

‘Your patients are like your family’ - reflects retiring GP

Former Killeshandra GP, Doctor Hannah Ahern decided to hang up her stethoscope on December 16, after 32 years serving the community, writes Gemma Good.

Dr Ahern came to the lakeside town on November 20, 1988 and single-handedly established the Killeshandra practice.

“From the time I was in secondary school... it was a desire I had,” said Dr Ahern when asked about her chosen vocation. She spoke fondly of her parents whom she described as “progressive” as they educated her and her siblings.

“I was the youngest in the family and my sisters before me were nurses and I thought - yeah, I’d like that.”

“It was a wonderful opportunity.”

Dr Ahern recalls, when she started out, the qualifications required to study medicine weren't as stringent as now.

“At that time, all you needed was the desire to do it,” she said, explaining that the only requirements were two honours and a language.

“It’s a little different today when you need all the points.”

Speaking on the current times she said: “The face of general practice is changing... It’s going to be better and I think technology is going to play a big part in it.”

She predicts there will be less face-to-face interactions, with more video consultations, making the experience better for the patient as less time will be wasted in the waiting room.

She said that she would highly recommend the vocation, the only sacrifice she had to make was her time. Between family life and the general practice, she said “You have to juggle all the time... you’ve got to be able to multi-task.”

The doctor’s love and passion for her profession was evident as she found it difficult to find words that would describe it highly enough.

“It’s just one of those professions... It takes you out of yourself: helping people, it’s a very fulfilling career.”

“It’s a vocation really, it’s just a calling.”

Having trained in England, Dr Ahern said that the highlight of her career was getting into General Practice, after getting a GMS post in Ireland.

“I was 29 when I took up a rural practice in Drumkeeran, that’s where I started, and it was wonderful.”

Dr Ahern then spent some time in Donegal before taking her position in Killeshandra, where she says she has “never” looked back.

“I love the area I’m in... I couldn’t have been put in a better place because I have such wonderful support from my neighbours and from my friends.

“It was just unbelievable, they really rallied around and helped me so I could continue as a single-handed practitioner.”

“I would say I have gotten more out of the area than I put into it.”

Retirement has not been an easy decision for Dr Ahern, as she said that she has been planning to hand over the practice for more than a decade.

“I hate saying it, but time caught up with me.”

“The reason why I retired is because my time is up, it’s time to go and you have to be able to let go.”

Doctor Siobhan McNamee will be taking over the practice.

“I couldn’t have got a better person... I’m very lucky.”

When Dr Ahern first arrived, Killeshandra did not have a GP and she put in long hours in ensuring that the people had continuity of care.

“I thought if I could get this practice built up, I would never leave it without someone to take over my patients, and that I succeeded in doing.”

She said that retirement “is a whole new life.”

“You do suffer withdrawal symptoms; it will take time to adjust.”

“Your patients are like your family really... you’ve looked after them all the time and you saw them grow up and move on... I’ll miss all that.”

Devoted to the town of Killeshandra, she plans to use her retirement “to get involved in building up Killeshandra and getting it on the map.”

“My main thing is I want to keep the people fit and healthy,” Dr Ahern said, hinting at planning several outdoor activities and classes with pilates instructor Jeanette Finnman.

“My vision is that people will come in from outside to see how beautiful Killeshandra is, it should be teeming with tourism.”

“That’ll be my focus.”

“There’s lots to do around here... In that way I’m looking forward to my retirement.”

As is the new trend this year, Dr Ahern’s patients came out to show their appreciation for the tremendous work she has done for the town.

“Well, my heart was just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude... I couldn’t believe it.”

“It really made me feel appreciated.”

“I’d be a shy type of person... I would like to just slip out the back door and go home... that’d be me.”

The children of Killeshandra National School (C of I), Scoil Bhríde and Corlis National School compiled a book of pictures and messages for the doctor, which she plans to treasure.

“I’ll keep it forever, the effort that they put into it was just amazing.”

It can only go onwards and upwards for the Killeshandra doctor as she plans “to keep active and keep moving on” throughout her retirement.

Dr Ahern wishes to thank everyone for all the good that has come out of working in the town of Killeshandra.

“It was just a pleasure to look after them,” she concluded.