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Doctor at home in the Daintree

9th October 2019

Rainforest walks, vintage caravanning and country general practice are the perfect combination of experiences to fill the days of GP registrar Dr Grace Neely.

Now a provisional Senior Medical Officer at Atherton Hospital, Dr Neely said her pathway to training with James Cook University (JCU) on the Tablelands began in country New South Wales.

Dr Neely fell in love with Rural Generalism on a first year medical student placement in her Grandmother’s home town.

“The doctors down there could do everything! They were the sort of doctors you see on TV shows. The ones that deliver babies, that do their own anaesthetics, that do surgery. They run the ED (Emergency Department), get called out in the middle of the night and they just had the most amazing stories and skills… and I said ‘I want that!’” said Dr Neely.

“I couldn’t think of anything else that would give me that sort of breadth of experience and skills.”

The lure of Queensland was strong with the Rural Generalist Pathway already up and running, so Dr Neely packed her bags and headed north with her husband, who is also a JCU GP registrar.

“The medicine in the Far North is completely unlike anywhere else in the rest of the country. I thought… ‘this is going to be the best!’… And it was!”

Dr Neely took up a place at the Cairns Hospital to complete an Advanced Skill in Obstetrics.

The added benefit of training in Cairns was that both she and her husband were able to find jobs where they could stay together and train in their chosen fields.

“I think every husband and wife doctor duo has the same kind of issues with training. We’ve deliberately chosen positions where we could be in the same place each time,” she said.

“We’ve had friends who’ve been married for three years and they’ve never lived in the same house because their training is in different parts of the state!”

After completing a few years of Obstetrics in Cairns, the pair were lucky enough to find positions together on the Tablelands for general practice training.

Dr Neely speaks fondly of her time, so far in Atherton. She loves everything from the beautiful surroundings and country hospitality, to training with a supportive team.

“All of our mentors and supervisors have been awesome. They have these huge volumes of experience and knowledge and are so willing to pass that on to the next generation,” she said.

“We've been invited out to some of our supervisors’ farms. We have a few beers in the afternoon and watch the sun go down. It's much more of a friendship relationship as well as a mentorship, rather than just seeing them at work and that's it.

“They get to know me as a person, I get to know them as a person. I think that makes that supervisor role much easier.  They can get a feel for the way I learn and I can get a feel for the way they teach. You just gel so much better than when you're in the cities, where you are one of so many. You're never going to have that sort of relationship.”

Dr Neely has become a strong advocate for rural General Practice. She said registrars will absolutely get better training in the bush and regional centres, than in metropolitan cities.

“Big city General Practice is a whole different world to country General Practice. You're expected to be able to manage lacerations that come in. People come in with chest pain to see their GP and they tend to not do that as much in the cities,” she said. “Your breadth of experience is much better in the regional centres than in the big cities.”

The calibre of the team of Rural Generalists Dr Neely works with in Atherton has cemented in her mind that she’s in the right place. She said everyone is willing to drop what they are doing and help out with times get tough.

“We had a wild storm on the Tablelands recently that meant the power went out in the hospital, while we were about to start an emergency operation.

“The second that we decided we needed to do an emergency caesar, all I had to do was duck next door and let them know that there's an emergency and we need to do this immediately.

“Everyone dropped what they were doing and mobilised and we were able to be in theatre within 15mins, which is incredible for a country town.”

Dr Neely said that experience was also a great example of the holistic care afforded to patients in rural towns.

“I knew the grandmother of that baby, I knew the daughter from antenatal care and I now know this baby who was born early. We are going to be able to follow them through,” she said.

“It's just this beautiful continuity of care that you're just not going to get anywhere else. I think that makes the patients feel safe because they know us. They know what we can do, they know us from previously and it's just such a wonderful community feel.”

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