Pictured: Dr Thornton at the Entourage Finance ladies luncheon last Thursday
Chantel Thornton knew she wanted to be a doctor when she was just nine years old.
She watched her favourite aunt endure gruelling chemotherapy treatments for late stage breast cancer before her death, while two other aunts, a cousin and her maternal grandmother also suffered from the disease.
Her passion for helping people wasn’t lost on her family even years earlier – her granddad bought her her first medical kit at age six.
But by nine her heart was set on medicine, helping women in particular, and the rest of her schooling was largely shaped around forging ahead with her dream.
Dr Thornton grew up in Tasmania and was one of the only girls in her grade taking senior science classes.
From there, she went on to study at the University of Tasmania and graduate top of her class, winning eight separate university accolades and earning herself a scholarship to study honours in Hong Kong.
The journey to becoming a fully qualified surgeon was long and tedious. It took 16 years, months on end without a day off and a permanent move to Melbourne.
Chantel Thornton knew she wanted to be a doctor when she was just nine years old
Dr Thornton watched her favourite aunt endure grueling chemotherapy treatments for late stage breast cancer before her death, while two other aunts, a cousin and her maternal grandmother also suffered from the disease
She works long days which often start at 6.30am and don’t finish until at least 7pm most nights.
But Dr Thornton wants women to know it really is possible to have it all.
Dr Thornton has achieved some semblance of a normal work-life balance in recent years. She married her partner Srecko Lorbek in 2017 in Tasmania in front of their nearest and dearest – including former politician Julie Bishop.
The couple welcomed their son Thornton Felix Lorbek in 2020.
Dr Thornton has a bedroom for her son on the top floor of her office to ensure he can be close by even when she’s working round-the-clock.
She says being entirely accessible for her 125 weekly clients is also a priority.
‘It’s hard to protect your schedule, but the patient comes first,’ she said.
Dr Thornton has a bedroom for her son on the top floor of her office to ensure he can be close by even when she’s working round-the-clock
She prides herself on having an inviting and warm office, and is renovating a home to house patients from rural areas
In her office, Dr Thornton has an installation artwork showcasing different types of female breast
A typical day in the life of a breast cancer surgeon
Dr Thornton’s day starts at 6.30am when she gets up to give her baby a bottle.
She then checks some patient results, writes some letters and does a ward round if any of her patients are in hospital.
From 9am to about 1.30pm she consults with her patients – seeing up to 25 in a single day.
Then she might go into theatre to perform surgery from about 1.30 to 7pm, or she’ll spend those hours continuing to consult patients and then start surgery of a night.
In between all of this, she juggles emergencies, checking in on her son and personal matters.
‘It’s rather unpredictable,’ she said.
‘It’s exciting but it also means you’ve got to have great back up, a great team around you, because your day can change very rapidly.’
On average, Dr Thornton spends about two to three days a week in surgery and sees about 125 patients each week.
This mantra is driven by a desire to keep her clients, many of whom are grappling with devastating diagnoses, as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
‘It’s difficult to be a part time surgeon. A patient needs to know that their surgeon will be available for them whenever they need.’
Dr Thornton said studies show high stress levels can impact survival rates, so she prides herself on offering immediate treatment to her patients, even offering her mobile number to anybody she treats so they know they can call her at any hour.
It’s that reasoning that encouraged her to buy a three bedroom cottage in the heart of Melbourne to ensure her rural, interstate and international patients had somewhere cosy to call home during their treatment.
She’s still in the process of renovating and allowed psychologists to take patients out of the rooms during Covid because she knew Melburnians’ mental health was a major concern throughout lockdown.
‘Sometimes a hotel environment just isn’t as comfortable and we’re trying to make this process as easy as possible for these women,’ she said.
‘This diagnosis can be so hard, sometimes you just need someone to take control and sort things like accommodation and flights out for you.’
Dr Thornton has previously discussed her belief that women have an innate and unique ability to practice medicine with a patient centred approach.
Fifty two per cent of first year medical students are women, and there are no shortage of driven females who want to become doctors.
But this number plummets when considering specialised fields of medicine. This is in some part due to the amount of women who leave the workforce to have children.
Just eight per cent of surgeons in Australia are women.
Dr Thornton was dux of her medical school and graduated with first-class honours before going on to complete her honours degree in medical science at the University of Hong Kong.
She prides herself on having an inviting and warm office to help alleviate stress among her patients
Dr Thornton has achieved some semblance of a normal work-life balance in recent years. She married her partner Srecko Lorbek in 2017 in Tasmania in front of their nearest and dearest – including former politician Julie Bishop
She went on to complete her surgical training at The Alfred Hospital and completed her surgical fellowship at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in 2010, where she still works in the public hospital stream to this day.
But Dr Thornton also runs a private practice, where she’s able to develop a closer relationship with her patients over a long period of time.
She encourages any woman diagnosed with breast cancer to think carefully when choosing a surgeon and their medical team.
‘I encourage them to choose a surgeon that’s a similar age to them,’ she explained. ‘You’re going to get to know them over a long period of time and you don’t want to have to change halfway through the journey if your surgeon retires or moves on.’
The mother-of-one attended a luncheon alongside 140 other driven women in Melbourne last Thursday to celebrate what it means to be female and all that they have accomplished.
The luncheon was hosted by Antoinette Sagaria, Director of Property at Entourage Finance, who announced that their data proved women were excelling in the real estate sphere as the nation bounces back from the Covid crisis.
To read more about the luncheon and other key guests, click here.
The mother-of-one attended a luncheon alongside 140 other driven women in Melbourne last Thursday to celebrate what it means to be female and all that they have accomplished
Dr Thornton is particularly proud of her pink front door and inviting office, which she hopes help make patients feel more comfortable
Dr Thornton runs a private practice, where she’s able to develop a closer relationship with her patients over a long period of time