Meet the obstetrician who is also qualified to treat large furry patients with four legs

Dr Mark Schembri loves his new career in human medicine, but still finds time for his equine patients too.
Dr Mark Schembri with ‘Frank’ the dog at the Royal Easter Show in 2015. Photo: Newspix

Dr Mark Schembri always loved horses but also wanted to be a doctor, and so at the age of 36, he sidelined his thriving veterinary career to begin medical training. 

The final push to commit to human medicine came with the birth of his second baby, which turned into a medical emergency that could have cost the life of his wife and newborn. 

“My wife had a placental abruption and emergency caesarean with our second child,” Dr Schembri tells 6minutes.

“That’s when I saw doctors at their best, and midwives at their best. 

“This was life-changing. This was superhero type work in my view. 

“And being an outsider — I was still a veterinarian then — it was enough to tell me it’s time to do medicine. I will get the fulfillment that I’m looking for in the professional world.” 

That was eight years ago and he is now a second-year O&G registrar at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital.

But he has not left his animal doctoring behind — on the weekends he is a vet for the Australian Turf Club and works at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. 

His dual career began being raised by a father who loved thoroughbreds and horse racing. 

A family day out was spent at Royal Randwick Racecourse and their annual holiday involved days visiting the Sydney Royal Easter Show. 

“During high school I couldn’t decide between doing veterinary science and medicine,” he says.

“I always loved horses, but I wanted to do medicine too.

“Someone said to me ‘Do veterinary science first because you’ll be able to go from veterinary to medicine, but medicine to veterinary is a lot harder’. 

“So that was what helped make the decision.” 

Dr Schembri in 2012. Photo: Harvard Gazette.

Finishing his veterinary science studies at 21, Dr Schembri then pursued a wonderful career for the next 14 years as an equine veterinarian. 

His roles took him around the world from Randwick to Dubai and to help the Australian equine Olympic team prepare for 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Along the way he squeezed in a master’s in public health at Harvard University and concentrated on the reproductive side of horses, mostly dealing with fertility, breeding and foaling. 

But in his 30s Dr Schembri came to a crossroads when it was time to buy into a veterinary partnership or start his own business. 

“My father-in-law is a gastroenterologist and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you consider medicine — that was your dream.’ 

“So I enrolled in medicine and kept it very much on the down low for the first year. 

“It was scary, because I was now going to leave an income, become a medical student, and have to work other jobs to top up the medical student life with a family.

“And I kept telling myself to avoid working in O&G because of the lifestyle involved. I was thinking of doing something a bit more family friendly.”

But another turning point came at the end of that first year of medicine, when he had the profound experience of the birth of his second child. 

“The first thing I remember is seeing a lot of bleeding from my wife,” Dr Schembri recalls of the birth. 

“But being a vet — and I hope this doesn’t sound inappropriate — that amount of bleeding is very normal for a horse during periods of their labour. 

“It wasn’t until everyone rushed in the room that I realised we had a true emergency. 

“I know that I would have lost my wife and baby very likely if it wasn’t for medicine.” 

That experience gave him clarity he was on the right pathway in studying humans, and cemented his decision to become an O&G. 

He gave up his full-time veterinary practice to concentrate on medicine.

“It was the right thing to do. I never looked back and thought I’m doing the wrong thing.”

Although his experience as a vet helped with some of the procedural elements of his medical studies there were differences too.

“Veterinary science involves several species, so there’s a lot of comparative anatomy as part of the learning.

“You have to be able to differentiate the type of placental creation for a pig versus a horse versus a goat versus a bird versus a cow versus a cat. 

“That was difficult. 

“But with human medicine, you went into a lot more depth, particularly with medicine, pharmacology and treatment. 

“I won’t say it was harder, I’d say it was much more enjoyable, much more satisfying.’ 

He and his wife have just had their fourth baby so life is now even busier. 

“Some people love lying on the beach. Other people love Netflix, other people love playing golf. 

“My equivalent of that is working at the races, that’s how it works.”

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