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Growing up in FNQ’s Tablelands district, Dr Hill soon returned to the area after completing his medical degree in Brisbane almost 40 years ago. Undertaking his training as Resident Medical Officer at Cairns Base Hospital, Dr Hill had plans to travel around Australia and work along the way. But after meeting his wife, a Cooktown local, he then moved to Cooktown, located just north of Cairns, to take up a hospital position and then open his own private medical practice as a GP a few years later. He eventually became a full-time GP practitioner and GP training supervisor as his practice grew.
“For the last 13 years, I've been training registrars and students every year here at the Cooktown Medical Centre. The Centre has greatly expanded from having just two doctors in 2002, to now having five full-time doctors. As we are the only general practice within a 200km radius, we get to see a whole range of diseases which can occur in a rural community located in the tropics. So, when a registrar comes here, they will be exposed to a wide range of scenarios which is quite an advantage to have in your training. The other thing that we do a fair amount of in Cooktown is treating skin lesions due to being in the heart of the tropics. And so, our GP registrars also get quite well trained in minor operations related to this.”
Another feature of GP training in Cooktown is the option to practice emergency medicine skills at Cooktown’s public hospital. “If a GP registrar wishes to work at the local hospital, they can also work there after hours and continue to develop their skills in emergency medicine. They will quickly get to know the hospital staff, all of whom are all very supportive of having new doctors on board.”
Other benefits of undertaking GP training in Cooktown include the beauty of the location itself and the friendly spirit of living in a small community. “There's lots of things to do around the town, lots of walking tracks along the Esplanade and around Mount Cook and up Grassy Hill. Quite often you can catch a number of different species of fish just straight off the wharf or the little jetties that line the foreshore.
“If people want to go out on weekends, there are a number of waterfalls where you can swim up in the Rossville area just 30 minutes south of Cooktown. There’s also easy access to Lakefield National Park just north of Cooktown where I've spent many weekends camping and walking along the creeks and catching mud crabs. Close by is Princess Charlotte Bay where there are lots of barramundi you can easily catch throughout the dry season.”
But for Dr Hill, the biggest advantage to living and working in Cooktown is the continuity of care he can offer to his patients. “The biggest impact that I find with being a rural GP, and having been here for 37 years, is the continuity of care for your patients. People that I have known from when they were born, or from when I even delivered them. Getting to know the people in the area means that they begin to trust you and rely on you. This means that the relationship with your patients is a lot more meaningful than just a ten-minute consult.
“It often turns into five or ten minutes talking before you even start the consult and as a result, you find out things about your patients which then can become very relevant as to why they are having certain medical conditions.”