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Communication key to better care

19 May 2017

With an advanced skill in mental health underway Dr Ebonney van der Meer is achieving her dream of helping people.

Dr van der Meer is a registrar with James Cook University (JCU)'s General Practice Training program undertaking Advanced Specialised Training (AST) at the Townsville Adult Acute Mental Health Inpatient Unit with the Rural, Remote and Indigenous Outreach Stream.

She said she chose an AST in mental health to help her be a better doctor.

“An advanced skill in mental health teaches you how to use your communication skills in the best possible way to engage your patients and colleagues. It’s about how to connect with the patient in the moment, and using that information to help achieve what the patient wants, and needs, together.”

“The skills and tools you learn through the AST are those you can pass onto your patients in small ways every day to help them through whatever it is they might be going through.”

Dr Jason Lee, Clinical Director of Rural, Remote and Indigenous Mental Health Services at the Townsville Mental Health Service Group, and JCU Supervisor said mental health problems are now one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality.

“Around 95% of people who need help with their mental health will end up being managed by their GPs rather than specialists,” he said.

“Out of all the ASTs you could do, it’s (mental health) the one sub specialty that would make you a better doctor overall.

“It would improve your ability to work with people. It would increase the likelihood that your patients who come to you, regardless of whether they’ve got surgical, medical or other conditions, tell you about all the problems they’re experiencing and are more likely to follow through on the treatment plan that you work with them on.”

Advanced Specialised Training - Ebonney's Story

Dr van der Meer encouraged other GP Registrars to consider mental health as their advanced skill.

“I can’t recommend the Townsville Mental Health AST program highly enough. The 12 months is specifically tailored to the college learning objectives and ensures exposure to all general and specialty areas of psychiatry, in addition to fantastic support, teaching and learning opportunities,” she said.

“The outreach to Palm Island, Ingham, Charters Towers and Ayr in the second six months has been an added bonus,” she said.

“You really get the sense that you, as an individual, are an investment in the future of primary care in mental health and that your role as a mental health specialist in General Practice or Rural Generalism is recognised and welcomed.”

“Mental health AST was definitely the best choice for me. It is such a privilege to be able have someone share with you the core of somebody’s life, their happiness, their struggles and to understand the complex picture that is an individual.”

“I have the opportunity to share in people’s lives and help them where I can, and that’s what I love about my job.”

For more details on Advanced Specialised Training and Advanced Rural Skills Training visit

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

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Townsville QLD 4811