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Finding home in the Far North

13th March 2020

As a new graduate Dr Ayesha Sheikh found it was easy to become a little overwhelmed in the hospital system, regularly changing teams, working long hours and juggling a personal life.

Having already spent time in far north Queensland as a medical student, she decided a move north to train as a GP through JCU in Innisfail might be exactly what she needed.

“The main thing for me was how supportive, approachable and down to earth all my supervisors here were.  I’d been doing long hours and had lost a close friend down south.  Then I got here and my supervisor was amazing,” Dr Sheikh said.

“She would tell me about her experiences and was really nice.  She was always available and always ready and able to help.  Then I moved on to my next supervisor who was also brilliant.  You could go fishing with him, have a drink with him.  Everyone was just so approachable.  It was a really good experience that way.”

The former Melbournian quickly found herself at home in Innisfail.  She relished the opportunity to learn in a beautiful environment with a fascinating case load, covering everything from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, to tropical diseases and farm related incidents.

Dr Sheikh believes the rural experience allowed her to make a difference in the lives of her patients while developing skills she may not otherwise have acquired in a metropolitan setting.

All of which she believes have made her a better doctor.

“You do get more experience. You might not have access to imaging or the transport available to get patients to other specialists, so you rely on your clinical knowledge. I’ve developed a lot as a doctor working in resource-restricted areas. I think that is really important. It takes you back to basics and it does make you a better clinician.”

Dr Sheikh found that while the rural environment might throw up unusual challenges, the training program ensured that she was always supported.

“You've always got someone’s phone number, and especially in the early years you are never really alone in the clinic.  You never feel unsupported in any way.

“You also get time with your supervisor. In my first year I used to get an hour or two every week. While that cuts back a bit as you go on in your later years you always have access to them. And while you are working they are always outside if you have any questions or concerns.”

Having completed her training, Dr Sheikh is now working as a GP in Innisfail, as well as rural Babinda.  She’s found it’s a career that is definitely for her.

“There’s an endless breadth to what you can do. You are not limited to one specialty, and if you want further training you can do that. There are so many opportunities.  You can stay interested and develop your career as a GP throughout your whole life.”

And Dr Sheikh said it’s also a career that offers a balanced lifestyle for her and for her family.

“It’s very good for work life balance.  After work you can go home and have a regular life.  It’s lovely.  It does get busier while you are training before exams because you have to squeeze in study.  But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Once you get your exams finished you can have your regular hours.”

Having embraced the far north lifestyle, Dr Sheikh said the region offers more than just a great training ground.

“It’s pretty multicultural up here, you get all sorts of people coming to this part of the world so you have a lot of cultural activities,” Dr Sheikh said.

“At the same time you are at the foot of the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rain forest.  So if you enjoy exploring, hiking or photography there is so much on offer.”

“We like camping as well so we love Cooktown.  My partner likes fishing a bit more than I do so he also has that.”

As you listen to Dr Sheikh talk about her experiences living and working in the far north, it’s clear the decision to make the move was certainly the right one.

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