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Dr Geraldo Guimaraes thought he had his career mapped out when he moved from Italy to Melbourne to study ‘hard-core’ science… but little did he know the twists and turns ahead that would lead him to become a rural GP.
While studying his Masters in science, his best friend, who went on to become a doctor, suggested he put down the microscope and pick up a stethoscope. “She kept saying do medicine, it would be perfect for you, here’s my GAMSAT prep stuff, sit the test. So I sat the test and got into Medicine,” he said.
Dr Guimaraes, known affectionately as ‘Dr Gerry’, set his sights on becoming an Oncologist and began his studies in Brisbane.
“I liked hard-core science and oncology seemed to mix that with talking to people, so I thought yep I’ll go to university for a few years and them come back to Melbourne and be an oncologists at the Women’s and Children’s hospital. That was the plan.”
Turns out that wasn’t where his career was headed. This city boy was soon to fall in love with everything the country had to offer. Dr Gerry recalled the start of his track to become a rural GP began in the line for Centrelink.
“I had become a citizen and I was sorting out what this getting paid while going to uni thing was. At Centrelink, there was a poster for a rural workshop organised by Health Workforce Queensland that was intended for final year students, and it was on the next day. I was waiting so long, I picked up the phone and called to register my interest.”
Dr Gerry scored a spot in the workshop after a cancellation. He went on to meet a number of mentors and other medical students who helped to grow his interest in rural medicine.
“To me it kind of felt like rural medicine had a lot to offer. These people who have been through it and are now specialists really realised that this needs to be worked on and pushed forward.”
As an Intern, Dr Gerry took up a placement at Bundaberg Hospital then signed up to the Australian General Practice Training program. Fast forward to now and Dr Gerry has found his place in the rural town of Biggenden as a James Cook University (JCU) GP registrar.
Dr Gerry said JCU have been flexible enough to let him train in a rural community that he would otherwise have had to wait another few years to take up.
“I came here at the end of my second year, so I know that supervision was an important focus. JCU was very good in coming on board and making sure the supervisor and placement was suitable, both from an educational point of view and also providing the service to the community.
“I’ve got a medical educator, Alex Dunn, who is a Rural GP and used to be a Superintendent out at Weipa. He’s now in Gympie. We’ve done a few visits now. He’s a lovely guy, easy to talk to. Then I’ve got my supervisor here that they liaise with, to make sure everything is going well. It’s good to know that I’m supported, but they aren’t babysitting me. They are encouraging me to make the most of it so I pass my exams the first time and that I’m being safe, which is a big thing.”
While enjoying the challenge of rural medicine, Dr Gerry has found a real community among his colleagues. He said he and the other rural doctor on staff, Danny, like to rally the crew for social events.
“Every Wednesday night we have pub night with the hospital staff, the ambo and the local cop. So if you’re ever going to have a heart attack or anything health related, the pub on a Wednesday night is the place to do it, because both doctors and the DOM (Director of Medical Service) from the Hospital, everybody is there,” he said.
“It’s a joy to come to work when you have staff that not only support you, but encourage you, banter and tell you off if you’ve done the wrong thing.
“I’ve worked in a few other places. I used to be a financial analyst, I did hard-core science, I used to be a youth worker and yeah those places were great, but it’s hard to find a place that feels like family.”
During his training in Biggenden, Dr Gerry has discovered the unique difference between rural and city medicine. He said it’s all about the connection you make with your patients.
“I have a patient who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. I’m his GP and I also treat him in the hospital and try and get him comfortable and pain free.
“Fortunately, I also see him at the pub. I know he just bought a new car, so we can talk about how the new car is and about how his golfing is going. Our conversations are not just ‘Hi Mr Such in Such aged 75… is the pain ok? Yep. Any questions? No. See you later.’ It’s more like ‘how’s the car? I see you left it out in the sun, do you want us to move it and put it under cover?’ It’s a different way of working that medical school doesn’t prepare you for.
“I know this is not the average doctor job and I’m glad that it’s not.”
Dr Gerry said between the supportive staff and community, challenging medicine and work-life balance he wouldn’t have his training any other way.
“I talk to my parents, they’re in Brazil and my brother is in London. He goes ‘how on earth do you live in a town of 1000 people’. I say how on earth do you not? I’ve got a house that I enjoy, I can take time off when I need to, I’m supported with staff that are always behind me. For me it’s a dream come true really.”