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Celebrating success: From the Torres Strait to the hallowed halls of Harvard

19th April 2021

JCU trained GP, Dr Allison Hempenstall completed most of her training as a rural generalist on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, managing the complex health needs of communities and pursuing research into tropical diseases.

While on the remote island off the north Queensland coast, Dr Hempenstall divided her time between Thursday Island hospital and primary healthcare centres across the Torres Strait. Her role saw her caring predominantly for Torres Strait Islander and Papua New Guinea patients, managing chronic diseases such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease, as well as infectious diseases including tuberculosis and melioidosis.

Dr Hempenstall was drawn to Thursday Island for the additional challenges the remote region had to offer, including its geography, healthcare logistics and interface with Papua New Guinea.

“As a junior doctor, I was given the opportunity to work in several different rural and remote locations across Australia including Thursday Island. It was the exposure to rural medicine and the associated challenges of working in resource-limited settings that inspired me to train as a rural generalist,” Dr Hempenstall said.

“There is a great diversity in the work here in the Torres Strait. I’m never bored. I’m also supported in my non-clinical work which includes teaching medical students and clinical research.”

Reflecting on her experiences living and working in the Torres Strait, it’s clear Dr Hempenstall has embraced the community she serves.

“I think it’s important when moving into any new community, and in particular a First Nations community, not to have any preconceived expectations. Having an open mind to learn about the place, people and culture is the most important attitude to have when experiencing a new place both here in Australia and anywhere in the world.”

Her years on Thursday Island have left Dr Hempenstall with countless memories, and she admits that some of her most significant moments have come from outside her clinics.

“The most rewarding experiences for me have been attending the high school careers’ days and talking to local school students about pursuing a career in health. And in 2019, I helped create a hip-hop video promoting skin health in the community – something I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I’d do.”

Having completed a significant amount of her training in rural and remote regions, Dr Hempenstall is the first to recommend that junior doctors do at least one rural term, regardless of their long-term plans.

“Not all doctors will go on to work in rural or remote areas, but I think a term widens their appreciation for the challenges of this type of medicine. For some, like me, a rural term highlights how fulfilling a career as a rural generalist can be and may shape their career path,” Dr Hempenstall said.

“City medicine differs from regional medicine, which differs again from rural and remote medicine. I love the challenge remote medicine provides and have employed my creativity, flexibility and communication skills in far greater depth here than in other jobs.”

As of 2020, Dr Hempenstall has taken on a task, pursuing her passion for Public Health. She has undertaken a Master of Public Health at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, as a Fulbright scholar.


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