Supporting doctors who want to make the transition to rural and remote medicine is one of the services provided by rural workforce agencies. Here is one story that demonstrates the value of proper preparation for a remote posting …
Doctor discovers a new world on the road to Cape Leveque
When Dr Trevor Lord does his rounds these days, it’s not uncommon for him to see a frill-necked lizard or a majestic jabiru in full flight.
Wildlife spotting is one of the fringe benefits of being a remote doctor in the Kimberley region of Western Australia – and Dr Lord loves his new “office”.
His patch is the Dampier Peninsula which he visits by four-wheel-drive. Travelling the Cape Leveque road, he calls in to communities at Beagle Bay, One Arm Point and Lombadina to conduct clinics on behalf of the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council.
This is approximately 2,500 kilometres and a parallel universe away from his old life as a GP in Perth doing industrial medicine for companies like Western Mining and Wesfarmers.
Looking for a new challenge, he relocated to the north-west in 2010 with his wife Jenny McConnell who had taken up an academic posting at the University of Notre Dame’s Broome campus.
“It’s great up here,” he says. “I feel like I’m 25 again, surrounded by young people, in this stimulating tropical environment where I get to practise a real variety of medicine. And to be in a place that is never cold is fantastic.”
Dr Lord says he was well prepared for remote health thanks to courses in emergency medicine and diabetes treatment organised for him in Perth by Rural Health West, the rural workforce agency that supports and recruits doctors in WA.
“Those courses were fabulous,” he says. “You couldn’t have had a better curriculum for a GP like me to get up to speed.”
He also took Rural Health West’s advice to work at an Aboriginal Medical Service in Perth for a few weeks to familiarise himself with Indigenous health issues. That experience opened his eyes to the tremendous sense of community and family that is so valued by Aboriginal people.
He learnt about the intricacies of men’s and women’s business, and how Aboriginal health workers play a key role in facilitating treatment for their people.
Meanwhile, he observed how chronic disease is having such a devastating impact on the Aboriginal community.
Now that he is practising in the Kimberley, Dr Lord sees a steady stream of patients with health conditions that would be unimaginable in places like Melbourne and Sydney.
There are 24-year-olds with Type 2 diabetes, people in their 40s with chronic rheumatic heart disease and 15-year-olds who weigh as much as 140 kilos.
“You’re able to do an enormous amount of good by being a GP up here,” Dr Lord says. “All of what I see is real medicine for people who really need it.”
Dr Lord has also rediscovered the importance of listening and the physical examination, old skills that come into play when making clinical decisions in a remote setting without the benefit of X-rays and blood test results.
And while he may be working remotely, he never feels alone. Specialist colleagues at hospitals in Perth are happy to provide advice over the phone and Dr Lord is ever thankful for the support he receives from the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
“I’ve coped a lot better than I expected thanks to people like the RFDS, the wonderful remote area nurses and the simply inspirational Aboriginal health workers,” he says. “It’s actually a lot easier than you think.”
Doctor in paradise … a remote posting has worked wonders for Trevor Lord.
Reinvent Your Career would like to thank Rural Health Workforce Australia for contributing the above article. Please visit their website at: http://www.rhwa.org.au/site/index.cfm for more information.