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All-rounder from outback to coast

27 September 2022

When JCU GP Supervisor Dr Peta Cornwall and husband Nathan settled in Mackay with their three young children, it was a move to ‘the big smoke’.

For the previous seven years, the dual ACRRM and RACGP Fellow had a solo practice in Alpha, a Central Queensland outback town in a shire of 1100 people. Dr Cornwall met her husband while working as a locum from the Gold Coast Hospital.

“When we married, the community thought they were set as what could be better recruitment than having the doctor marry a local?” she says. “It was certainly a fantastic experience and huge learning curve. The medicine really had it all, literally from birth to death, from simple colds to major road trauma and even the odd veterinary case, too.

“I feel privileged to have had such a broad work experience so early as a young doctor. I was even introduced to the running of a small hospital. Having my husband’s family around made it a great place to start our family, which might sound crazy as I was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I got to know all of the community intimately and they certainly knew me, too, which at times was comforting but also daunting. I found myself involved in meetings from the CWA to the Local Counter Disaster Team and being on the hospital executive giving advice about the local health budget and planning strategies.

“It’s very humbling to think that a group of strangers would so openly accept and entrust me with so many aspects of their life.”

Her practice covered a huge swath of cattle grazing and mining territory from a town about five hours west of Rockhampton.

“I’ve been in Mackay now for 14 years, the longest I’ve been in any one place,” says Dr Cornwall, who completed her medical degree at The University of Queensland after spending parts of her childhood in Brisbane, Hong Kong, Japan and Sydney. 

“I had to get used to having colleagues and specialists around, which was great, but Mackay is still small enough that you get to do family medicine.”

Dr Cornwall received a recognition of service award in 2021 from General Practice Supervisors Australia (GPSA) for her work over 15 years as a GP supervisor. As well as mentoring GP registrars at South Side Medical, she oversees James Cook University medical students.

“I love having students and registrars because I think I'd be pretty lazy at keeping up with all my extended knowledge without them,” she says. “They keep you on your toes. They always ask the good, juicy questions and it just keeps you a little bit more relevant. It does remind me to look at some of my patient cases from a slightly different angle.

“You get to that time in your career where you rely a lot on your experience and commonalities. There's a lot of what I do where I don't even question the thoughts until the student says, ‘Why did you know how to do that?’ and I have to step back and think about that one. You get to see students who come from very different backgrounds and guide them a little bit.”

She says Mackay is perfectly sized for GP registrars. “It’s a small enough community that most of us know almost everybody, including the specialists. You'll get a lot more hands-on with your patients. You'll get to experience a continuity of care that you might read about but not necessarily see in a bigger facility.

“As a student, it can look really daunting. You think, ‘Oh, if I go to a smaller facility, I'm not going to see all the big weird and wonderful cases,’ but we do get them and, yes, some of their treatment might have to be sent away, but you get to be more a part of the treating team.

“I've got three kids who are now officially all adults. My youngest twins just turned 18. My kids have grown up in Mackay enjoying a wide variety of sports, academic experiences and friendships that will stay with them forever.

“It might get a little humid in our summer, but you can’t beat our winter days where you might need a light cardigan and sunscreen. We have easy access to the Whitsundays and direct flights to several major cities. We still have family in Alpha, which is always a good excuse to visit.”

Read more stories of JCU's inspiring GP registrars, supervisors and medical educators in our annual report. Find out more about training in the Mackay region.

JCU Stories
JCU Stories

James Cook University’s GP training program supports registrars to live, learn and work alongside inspirational educators, supervisors and mentors in diverse regional, rural and remote locations across Queensland.

Why train with JCU
Why train with JCU

Looking for GP training with a difference? Find out more about JCU's training program. 

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