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Come for the training, stay for the lifestyle

Canal Creek, Weipa. Photo by Dr Riley Savage.
23 August 2022

With a broad scope of practice and unique and diverse cases, you’ll never be bored as a GP in regional and rural Queensland. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s all work and no play.

Our training region is classified as North Western Queensland, an adventurer’s playground offering a vivid mix of landscapes to explore – from glorious beaches and mountains, hinterlands, and spectacular rainforests, to wide savannah country, wilderness and the rugged Outback. 

It’s a vast and diverse region that covers 90% of the state and encompasses a population of over 1.6 million people. While all these communities can be classified as either regional, rural or remote, they offer vastly different lifestyle experiences. You could choose to experience rural medicine in tourist hot spots like the Cairns Coast or take the path less travelled amidst the untamed beauty of the North West.

GP registrars can train in 10 regions across North Western Queensland: Cairns Coast, Cape & Torres Strait, Central Queensland, Central West, Mackay, North West, South West, Tablelands, Townsville and Wide Bay.

Dr Cindi Jackson is a GP Fellow and JCU Medical Educator in the Wide Bay region who discovered plenty to love about the lifestyle that comes with training in North Western Queensland.

“I love living a two-minute drive from work. I love bringing my kids up in a pollution-free environment where there is a real sense of community. I like contributing as an important and respected member of our community. We know each other and we look out for each other.

“And as an amateur photographer, I love the rural landscape, the space, the colours and the whole feel of the bush,” Dr Jackson says.

Two-thirds of the 674 GPs who fellowed between Jan 2016 and June 2022 have stayed to practise in our region, like Dr Jackson. They can attest to a few of the many lifestyle benefits of pursuing your GP career in North Western Queensland:

You’re in an environment that values work-life balance

Registrars in our training region love the more relaxed pace of life that our regional, rural and remote communities are renowned for.

It was a feature that drew dual ACRRM-RACGP registrar, Dr Rachel Yin Foo, to the Central West town of Winton. Choosing to do her advanced skills training in emergency medicine, Dr Yin Foo knew a community like Winton promised a better work-life balance.

“I like the lifestyle of working in a small community, both as a GP and being on-call for the hospital. It allows for a more realistic social life than what a career in emergency medicine usually gives you.

“There is a frequent social calendar in Winton and it’s well linked in with the other towns around it. There’s even an outback film festival held there,” Dr Yin Foo says.

You can choose your own adventure

If you like the great outdoors and are always up for an adventure, you’ll find what you’re looking for in North Western Queensland. During their downtime, you’ll find many of our registrars and GP fellows exploring the Great Barrier Reef, hiking ranges and gorges, or at the locals' best fishing spots.

Dr Riley Savage is a rural generalist in the western Cape York town of Weipa. She moved back to the town two years ago and says she loves being able to provide the same adventurous lifestyle to her kids that she had during her rural upbringing.

“I love the fact that our kids are growing up with the advantages of rural life that I had. We now spend every weekend we’re not working either camping or on the boat and have been swimming in more pristine creeks and waterfalls than I can count. We are totally spoilt by nature here,” Dr Savage says.

Training rurally might even offer an adventure that is the fulfilment of a childhood dream, as it has for ACRRM registrar Dr Jay Short. He’s training on the beautiful Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville, and has jumped at the opportunity to work towards his pilot’s licence.

“From the age of four, I used to run around with my arms out, pretending I was a Flying Doctor. Being able to put two passions together is pretty exciting,” Dr Short says.

You get to experience real community

While the landscapes vary wildly, a consistent feature of rural towns in North Western Queensland is a grateful community that will welcome you in as one of their own.

Neighbours who pitch in when someone needs a hand, community events that everyone gets involved in, locals stopping for a chat when they see you in town. It all combines to create a special atmosphere that embeds GP registrars and their families into the community.

Dr Nikki Harch is a recent ACRRM Fellow who trained in the Central Queensland town of Emerald and chose to stay on after fellowship, in large part due to the strong connections she developed with the community.

“Over the past few years, I have been able to build relationships with my patients which just makes the work I do as a GP so much more rewarding. And because you've spent that time to build up the trust, it means that I am able to make a difference with things like vaccine hesitancy, for example. 

“I know my community and I trust my community, and I can definitely see the benefits of raising a family and growing my career here,” Dr Harch says.

You can still have the best of both worlds

When some people think of training in a rural or remote location they assume it means being isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. While some registrars will thrive on being in the furthest flung locations of our training region, many will discover a happy medium of life in a rural town that’s still - as the locals say - ‘a hop, skip and a jump from the big smoke’.

RACGP registrar Dr Luke McIntosh has become a recognisable and popular figure in his training location of Mundubbera in Central Queensland and is experiencing the connection to a community of a rural GP.

“Working and living in a smaller community, getting to meet everyone and feel like you’re a more valued part of the community was a big drawcard for me,” he says. “It becomes a lot easier to develop that rapport with patients when they see you down at the local show and things like that,” he says. 

“You still do get to go away for weekends and get to enjoy some of the highlights of the big cities but coming back to live and work in a town like this is so rewarding and it’s something that I’ve really valued,” Dr McIntosh says.

You might discover your ‘Forever Home’

When you choose to work and train in North Western Queensland, you might find your new home, like Dr Catrina Arnold-Nott. She was working on Thursday Island when she visited the Atherton Tablelands for a short holiday with her family. One week later, they had bought a 120-acre farm and were preparing to move back to the Tablelands permanently.

“It was a totally impulsive decision,” Dr Arnold-Nott says. “We had never talked about living in this part of the world. We had never talked about owning land. We had never, ever talked about being farmers!”

“When we moved here, it was like finding home for the first time in my adult life. Up until then, I had thought where I had grown up was home and that I would probably end up back there one day. Then we moved here, and straight away I thought ‘My bones are going to be in the cemetery here’. I grew roots so quickly and so deeply,” Dr Arnold-Nott says.

Find out more about the adventure and lifestyle on offer through GP training in North Western Queensland. We are here to help as you make your training pathway decision: sign up to receive updates about AGPT 2023.

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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