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Get to know Associate Professor Harold Jacobs

18 October 2021
A love for science and a drive to make a difference prompted Dr Harold Jacobs to pursue a regionally focussed career in medicine which led him down the path of GP, Medical Educator, and the lead role at James Cook University’s Rural Clinical School.

The Associate Professor answers questions about defining moments in a 45-year career, including 32 years spent serving the Mackay community as a GP, the sense of pride he found in his work, and what it was like teaching the next generation of doctors up until his retirement in 2011.

Where are you from and where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Brisbane suburbs when it was just a big country town. The 1950’s and 60’s was a wonderful time to grow up, with post World War II opportunism at its height. The in the 1970’s, university was free and though we had the draft for Vietnam war, that ended with the Whitlam election in 1975.

What made you want to become a doctor/medical educator?

I always enjoyed science subjects and realised at high school that choosing a medical profession was a way to enjoy science, establish a career and make a difference in the community. After graduation I chose to be an intern in Mackay in 1976 and returned there to join a general practice in 1979. Having a number of mentors as a young GP then made me decide to return the favour for the next generation by working as a medical educator.

Tell us about your role?

I’m a retired GP and currently serve JCU GP Training as chair of the Strategic Leadership Council. I continue to be active in retirement as a GP locum when needed and am involved in quality improvement activities for General Practice such as a surveyor for GP practice accreditation [almost 850 practices visited] and medico-legal work giving independent opinions for a variety of authorities. I am also an examiner for the Royal College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

From 1979 until 2011 I was a GP based in Mackay. I spent almost two decades organising GP Training in Mackay and for the last decade was head of the JCU Mackay Clinical School. In retirement I have continued clinical work as a GP locum throughout Queensland and have kept in contact with JCU in various roles including in 2015 as the inaugural Medical Director of JCU GP Training Program.

What do you love most about your role?

The friendships made as a GP are exceptional including friendships with colleagues, both specialists and GPs; friendships with patients; and especially friendships with young colleagues, both students and registrars along their training pathways. It is with a sense of pride that I acknowledge the successful careers of many of those young colleagues who I have met along the way. But it is with a sense of sadness that I acknowledge the few tragedies of burnout and suicide of which I'm aware.

What special interests do you have in your clinical/training work?

Medical education has always been a passion of mine. I’m particularly interested in clinical skills, communication skills and mental health care. These old-fashioned skills are as necessary today as ever.

What is your proudest work achievement?

I am proud of the large number of graduates, both student and registrars, who I have known and who have subsequently developed satisfying careers. I am also proud of the 32 years of service as a GP to the community of Mackay. In 1979 I started a surgery there offering a full obstetric service, major surgery lists every week, in-patient care on a daily basis and a complete after-hours service. I love the place and I’m proud of my two daughters who grew up there, although I have since moved upon retirement. The young solicitor conducting conveyancing on my house sale when I left Mackay was a baby I had delivered a few decades previously!

What are the challenges for medical training in the future?

The provision of comprehensive primary care is a necessary as ever. Patients look for a trusted GP who knows them and their family, who can provide continuity of care across the complexity of modern specialist services, and who will stay the distance to provide aged care and end-of-life care when needed.

However, there are many challenges ahead to re-establish primary care as a majority choice for new graduates. The selling points are great work-life balance, quality rural and regional living, satisfying doctor-patient relationships and rewarding medicine, and making a difference in the lives of those who choose to trust us as doctors.

What advice do you have for registrars?

Registrars need to train and work according to their comfort zone. Some will welcome the challenge of independence, resourcefulness and decisiveness required for remote settings, while others will be liable to burnout. Doctors need to think also of the requirements for their family. It is understood that the more remote the workplace, the greater the personal challenge, but also the greater the reward.

What do you enjoy about the regional, rural or remote lifestyle?

Rural and regional living has many advantages in terms of quality of life and stress-free living. Every time I get caught in a traffic jam which happens daily in and out of Brisbane, I think with great fondness of living and working in Mackay where everything is no more than a 10-minute drive, parking is seldom a concern, and peak hour lasts 20 minutes only.

Other benefits are the nearby access to nature, and the job satisfaction that comes with having respectful patients and colleagues. Patients in smaller communities tend to respect their doctor as a trusted professional and not just as a source of referral or prescription.

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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.

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