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City paramedic’s seachange inspires new career

19 September 2017

Dr Natalie Fonda grew up amongst a family of doctors in bustling Melbourne, but now calls the Sunshine Coast home.

Natalie was keen to buck the family trend (her father and both siblings are doctors), so studied to become a paramedic before working as an Advanced Life Support Paramedic for Ambulance Victoria for six years until she felt it was time for a change of pace.

“I eventually decided that I wanted to become the fourth Dr Fonda of the family,” she says from her home on the Sunshine Coast where she is completing her general practice training through James Cook University’s (JCU) General Practice Training program.

Natalie began her general practice training in 2017 and currently splits her time between the GPCARE Medical Centre in Maroochydore and Ochre Medical Centre, in Caloundra.

She says it was during medical school and her early days of practicing medicine when she realised she wanted to provide continuity of patient care.

“I wanted to find a role where I could forge long-standing relationships, and instead of providing the emergency care, focus on preventing it.

“Working as a GP, I find I get the best of both worlds. There is still a great mix of emergency presentations to the clinic, and I get to follow them up afterwards!”

Dr Fonda moved to the Sunshine Coast with her partner in 2015. She says they love their new lifestyle.

“We adore living so close to the beach and the hinterland. On the weekends we try to explore the coast, which usually involves some kind of fitness activity with some great food.”

When asked for her advice for junior doctors pondering a career in general practice, Natalie says start thinking like a GP as soon as you can.

“Early on in your medical career, you get fantastic exposure to acute medicine in the hospital, and it can be really useful to think about the next step for the patient in terms of follow-up, and what you would need to do when you see the person in the GP setting post discharge. Once you sit on the other side of the fence, you realise how confusing and complicated it can be to manage patients!” she says.

Natalie continues to be involved in paramedicine and recently spent two weeks on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu as clinical supervisor for a group of final year paramedic students from the University of the Sunshine Coast.

“The trip was supported by funding from the Australia Government’s New Colombo Plan which is an initiative aimed at increasing educational exchange in the Indo-Pacific region,” she says.

“The students were involved in many aspects of community and emergency health, including hospital-based medicine, rural health outreach, paramedic placement, school visits, and helping run first aid courses and training drills.

Natalie says she learned a lot from the trip.

“We were certainly challenged by barriers around communication and custom, and at times we were confronted by the limited health services available to the locals. It taught us that you always need to be prepared to think on your feet and improvise, and to appreciate how fortunate we are in Australia to have such incredible healthcare.”

Generalist Medical Training is a program of James Cook University funded through the Federal Government’s Australian General Practice Training program.

Training to become a GP generally takes three to four years in a combination of hospital and general practice settings.

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