Secret lives of staff: the fencing doctor who can ballet dance

Dr Richard Phoon says he loves to do show jumping, fencing and ballet outside of work.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a challenge faced daily by all Australians.

Finding the time to have a life outside of work can be quite difficult.

But for one kidney doctor at Westmead Hospital, life is literally a modern pentathlon, with some classical ballet thrown in for good measure.

“I find ballet is very relaxing – it balances me.”

Dr Richard Phoon is a Senior Staff Specialist in Nephrology at Westmead and Blacktown hospitals, a Senior Lecturer in Medicine at the Westmead Clinical School, and an Elected Councillor with HCF.

When he is not helping people with chronic kidney disease, he is out show jumping, fencing or doing ballet.

“I quite like the idea of riding a horse and fencing with a sword,” he told The Pulse.

Richard in full swing.

Richard admits he has had a long-standing dream of competing in modern pentathlon, an Olympic sport involving épée fencing, freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, and pistol shooting combined with cross country running.

While a torn meniscus temporarily slowed his pace, Richard is now ready to get back into competitive fencing, having already competed at national and international level.

And while the other pentathlon disciplines are on his to-do list, Richard firmly believes we can always find time for sport and recreation in our busy lives.

“These things give me a better perspective on life in general,” he said.

“I’m more empathic with patients, I talk to patients about my interests and they talk to me about their interests. I find this breaks down a lot of barriers.”

Dr Phoon and his son Alexander at a ballet dancing class.

But sometimes it means the doctor can become the patient.

After tearing an anterior cruciate ligament doing martial arts, Richard had to also stop playing over 35s soccer.

As he recovered he looked for alternatives.

“I was getting frustrated with not being able to do everything I was used to doing,” he said.

He decided to take up a long-held wish to try show jumping.

And to make things really interesting, he added fencing and ballet to his repertoire.

“Ballet is very proper – great posture, the way you move and the whole musicality, and the art form – I find it all beautiful to be honest,” he said.

Equestrian show jumping is a passion of Dr Phoon.

It is a lot to fit into an already busy schedule.

Richard sees around 50 outpatients every week, many with kidney disease.

Across the Western Renal Service there are around 750 dialysis patients.

Some are waiting for a kidney transplant and others have had a transplant.

Richard is involved in their lives over the course of many years, from diagnosis, to dialysis, to transplant, and in the many years of treatment afterwards.

“I feel very blessed and grateful to be involved in people’s lives for such a long period of time,” he said.