Shepparton GP Dr Steph Tabner shows her wild side

By John Lewis

On her days off, Dr Steph Tabner reckons there’s nothing better than fronting a full-on rock band blasting out power hits from Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple or AC/DC.

The United Kingdom-trained GP spent more than 10 years as a singer performing in clubs and pubs across her home territory of northern England, before deciding it was time to do a medical degree and get a proper job.

‘‘I was out performing four or five nights a week travelling the northern circuit in the UK. It was fun — very character building,’’ she said.

‘‘I travelled on my own with my backing tracks. People saw me hauling my gear up and down stairs in working men’s clubs — but I never got any hassles. I learned to play a lot of pool,’’ she said.

After years of travelling for her pop and cabaret solo act, life on the road began to drag.

‘‘It was a bit anti-social. I was missing out on friends. I was also feeling a bit unchallenged — intellectually,’’ she said.

Dr Tabner grew up in Manchester in a working class family and left school with not enough qualifications to pursue further education.

‘‘I remembered I always liked biology at school and I had an idea to do an A-level (VCE). So I studied for two years and got an A-grade. I thought I might be a biology teacher or a vet, then my tutor suggested medicine,’’ she said.

When her Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, it made Dr Tabner even more determined to pursue medicine.

‘‘No-one in my family came from a medical background, but Mum was my biggest supporter,’’ Dr Tabner said.

Dr Tabner was accepted into Hull University to study medicine and was in just the second week of her course when her mother died.

Five years later she graduated with a medical degree and began a postgraduate internship at Hull Medical School before working as a GP from the small town of Beverley in East Yorkshire.

Despite the intensity and stress of medical school, Dr Tabner couldn’t resist the lure of the stage and musical performance.

‘‘I gigged throughout medical school at weekends — it was absolutely knackering, but great fun,’’ she said.

Her musical journey had seen her perform in UK travelling shows The Meatloaf Story and Vampire’s Rock where she met her now husband guitarist Andy Alker.

‘‘He said ‘why don’t you sing rock’? So we set up our own band,’’ she said.

Bad Dog went on to become a big hit on the UK biker circuit playing classic 60s and 70s rock including Janis Joplin, Queen, Bon Jovi, Fleetwood Mac, and ZZ Top numbers to thousands of fans.

Her work as a country GP continued, but she became restless.

‘‘After I was trained and began work, I thought — is this it? I wanted another challenge — surely there’s got to be more to life?’’

The idea of Australia had been planted by her husband’s teenage friend Nick Roberts, who has lived and worked in Shepparton for more than 20 years.

After starting as a GP at Shepparton Medical Centre on Graham St a month ago, Dr Tabner reckoned she had made the right move.

‘‘It’s a really good practice and everyone has been tremendously supportive. I started in a rural practice in the UK — a place with strong community links.

‘‘Here I have longer consulting times, there’s less pressure — and the weather’s better,’’ she said.

But the pull of the stage is not far away.

‘‘We want to get back into playing music again, but we haven’t put ourselves out there yet.’’

Dr Tabner said sometimes she felt like two different people — but they worked together.

‘‘I have a creative background and music fulfils that, and medicine fulfils the intellectual side.

‘‘Having the confidence to stand on stage gives me the confidence to work as a doctor.’’

Dr Tabner said her ‘‘rock doctor’’ role suits herself and her patients.

‘‘It can be a stressful job so going on stage is the one time I can switch off — it’s quite cathartic,’’ she said.

‘‘And people want doctors to be like them, don’t they? I have a relaxed consulting style — relatability is a big draw.’’