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Doctor on a Mission
From Mount Isa to Cape York and the Tablelands, Dr Aaron Hollins is on a mission to bring quality doctors to rural areas.
Dr Hollins is the Lead Medical Educator for James Cook University’s (JCU) General Practice (GP) training regions in the Tablelands and Cape and Torres Strait, with a passion for rural health and education.
“During medical school I got quite interested in rural and remote health and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. When I graduated I made sure I went to areas where I could fulfil that interest. I lived in Mount Isa for five years and started my GP training there, then finished it here on the Atherton Tablelands.
“I found that the mix with GP and Aboriginal health also gave me a really good overview of things like public health as well. So from there to tie it all together - Public Health, GP and Aboriginal Health - I’ve then come into Medical Education to try and inspire others down that same path and to rural and remote medicine."
Dr Hollins said the Tablelands offer a unique opportunity for budding GPs, combining rural hospitals, procedural work and private practice.
“Registrars can do procedural work in Hospitals such as obstetrics and anaesthetics. But you can also work in General Practice where you could see anything from paediatrics presentations to visiting aged care nursing homes, as well as doing a lot of skin cancer surgery, farmer’s health and occupational health. Because we are in a rural area, you will get to see a lot more, and hang on to your patients a lot more.”
Dr Hollins said the supervision and network of support in the region is second to none.
"You're supported not only by JCU's GP training program here locally, with administration and medical educators, but also within the practices and the hospitals. You have very experienced health professionals including the practice nurses, practice managers, ambulance officers, who are all quite heavily involved in that support as well as teaching and mentorship around rural general practice."
“We have really experienced GP supervisors who are keen to teach and keen to look after you. They are also keen to hang on to you as a qualified GP when you finish your training.”
And the proof is in the pudding: JCU has had 14 GP Fellows complete the program in the Tablelands since it began in 2016. Of those Fellows, 10 have either stayed or moved into the Tablelands to practise.
Dr Hollins says it’s a trend they are seeing as registrars come through the ranks.
"We found that most of our registrars will stay in our regions. They have trained there, they've got to know the community there and they feel comfortable to continue on working in those regions.”
He said the career prospects are excellent for rural doctors. “They usually take on more senior positions once they finish their training. So we have some of our registrars, who have now worked as senior medical officers, or medical superintendents of rural hospitals, whilst others have taken on partnership roles in rural general practices. So it's really heartening to see that JCU’s GP training in these rural areas is working and providing a workforce solution into the future.”
As for Dr Hollins’ experience outside of work, he is proud to be raising his family in Mareeba.
“The Tablelands is a great place to live. My wife and I have bought up three children in Mareeba. My kids absolutely love it and have had a great time. My eldest has gone through all of her schooling here. Atherton and Mareeba have some absolutely fantastic mountain bike trails for people who are interested. I'll often take two of my kids riding through those trails as well.
“One of the opportunities they've now got is working on a Mango farm packing and picking mangos with a friend of ours. It's such a great holiday job, though I don't envy them in this heat.”
Dr Hollins counts himself lucky to be working in the field of general practice, medical education and public health, particularly in the Tablelands.
“I only see patients one day a week now, but I really love the opportunity to do that, and to be part of people's lives in that way is such a thrill. From a medical education perspective, I love seeing people get through their training whilst on the Tablelands and stay on afterwards. To me that is the peak of why I do my job of helping provide additional workforce to rural areas."
"If you decide to do your GP training on the Atherton Tablelands, you will have the best of both worlds. You're one hour from the Coast. So if you need to get to an international airport, Cairns is just down the road. You are near enough to a city, yet far enough that you are doing rural general practice. You will get a great grounding in clinical rural general practice, while experiencing a rural lifestyle you won't get anywhere else.”