The extraordinary story of Miss Annette Holian – Australia’s female Orthopaedic pioneer and multifaceted leader wearing many hats!

Annette Holian
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Annette Holian is a Consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon at Monash Children’s hospital, a Councillor at Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) and 1st Vice President of the Australian Orthopaedic Association (AOA). As a reservist in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), she holds the rank of Group Captain and is the Clinical Director for Surgery and Perioperative Services for RAAF.

Elected to the RACS Council effective May 2016, she has held the Global Health portfolio since May 2017 and was the Fellow point of contact for all RACS Global Health work until May 2021 when she took up the RACS Chair of the Board of Surgical Education and Training.


Outside the UN in 2019. As RACS Councillor, Chair of Global health, she attended the World Health Assembly for several years. 

Women were first accepted onto the Australian orthopaedic training program commencing in 1986 and Annette was one of the two women who started her training that year. Her fellowships included a year in Paediatric Orthopaedics at Oswestry, UK in 1993-4 and 2 years as a Trauma Fellow in 2001-2. When elected to 2nd Vice President in the AOA in October 2019, she became the first woman to be on the Presidential line and will become the AOA President in November 2021.

As a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Monash Medical Centre, she started visiting Papua New Guinea (PNG) as a volunteer surgeon in 1996. It was there that she first provided surgical care following a tsunami in July 1998. This experience was invaluable in contributing in the first Australian team to respond to the Boxing Day tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. She joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 2000 for service in East Timor, and subsequently shifted towards trauma surgery with a seven-year period as a fulltime orthopaedic and trauma surgeon at The Alfred, a Level 1 Trauma Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

 
1998 - PNG tsunami response showing children with femoral shaft fractures in traction on the ward


Serving with the ADF under the UN banner in East Timor in 2000 


She had just taken a team through traction bed setup the day before, and received a patient with bilateral hip dislocations (one anterior and one posterior). Patient had closed reduction of the hips, separate wound care and traction in 2001.

She served as the Clinical Director of a NATO Role 2 medical facility in 2008 and served again in 2010. An injury in Afghanistan in 2010 kept her off work for 9 months but allowed her to step into a role as the Deputy Director of Trauma at the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in Darwin where she was able to help lead development in Australia’s civilian disaster response capability and specifically the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) Surgical Team course.


As a Trauma surgeon in the Middle East in 2008. She did 2 years of trauma fellowships to manage multi-trauma patients and run trauma responses at the largest Level 1 trauma hospital in Australia. During that tour, Annette was the orthopaedic surgeon on the team, and clinical director for the NATO Role 2 medical facility. Here  supporting a Dutch doctor in the insertion of an ICC in a blast victim.


She helped establish AUSMAT surgical team training Course in Darwin, Australia. Now a well-oiled group - Australia has a WHO Emergency Medical Team Type 2 (EMT2) verified facility able to respond to disasters as needed. This was the last course pre-COVID in September 2019. 

She has undertaken five deployments to war zones including three tours in Afghanistan and a first responder in several humanitarian disaster responses both as a civilian and in uniform - to the tsunami in PNG 1998, Banda Aceh in December 2004, the Western Sumatra earthquake in Nias in 2005, and with AUSMAT to the Philippines in November 2013 following a typhoon.


2012: serving with the US Navy in the Middle East at a NATO Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit: the orthopaedic surgical team (handover time with extras present) standing in front of an armoured ambulance. 

As the senior surgeon in RAAF and holding the position of Clinical Director for Surgery and Perioperative Surgery, she was instrumental in establishing the RAAF Resuscitative Surgical Capability, a short notice surgical team that can provide immediate complex surgical care in forward environments.

Most of her career has been in public hospitals with one year based in Geneva in 2015-16 with the International Committee of the Red Cross, to lead a research team in writing a consensus document on the Management of Limb Injuries in Disasters and Complex Emergencies.

She completed her Masters of Surgical Education through the University of Melbourne in 2019, and is currently working at Monash Children’s hospital, Melbourne.

Her career focus has shifted over time but has always been directed at improving access to surgery for those in need, whether they be children or adults with disabilities, trauma victims, people who live in remote areas, military members, civilians caught up in conflict or victims of a natural disaster.

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