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Family time in the bush - just what the doctor ordered

4th November 2019

From a bustling Emergency Department in an Adelaide Hospital to the challenges of rural General Practice, Dr Vijay Akkineni has been pleasantly surprised with what he has found in central western Queensland.

After 10 years working in Acute Emergency Medicine in South Australia, the now JCU GP registrar made the move with his young family to take on a new challenge.

Dr Akkineni said he felt like something was missing in his life.

“After I got married, and with the shift work in acute care, I realised I was missing my family time,” he said. “I wanted to work in a place where I could actually utilise my acute medical skills along with general practice.”

Dr Akkineni set his sights on the small rural community of Blackall, where he found so much more than he was bargaining for.

“I was looking for an opportunity where I could be challenged. My friends and family were very supportive of our move. They said it was the right choice because they knew I was going somewhere that I could improve my skills and experience, while working where doctors were most needed,” he said.

“In the city if I couldn’t turn up for work one day there would be 10 other doctors on the floor who could manage my cases. Whereas here, I am the only doctor on call. So it makes a lot of difference and the job satisfaction is more than I was expecting, which is working out very well.”

As one of only a few doctors in town, Dr Akkineni relishes the responsibility of providing the best care possible to his community. He said it is the continuity of care that makes his job so special.

“I treat patients in the hospital then send them back into the town where I see them again in the GP clinic. That to me is job satisfaction. I’ve managed to make a difference in that person’s life,” he said.

“When I worked in acute care there was always help available, you press a button and then give the patient to someone else. But here, until the patient gets on the plane and leaves Blackall, they’re my responsibility. I need to make sure I look after the patient and advocate for them. Whenever I communicate with the other teams they know the patient has a second voice who is pushing for a particular treatment.”

Dr Akkineni said the support provided by JCU GP training program has helped to ease his transition into rural practice.

“I’ve never felt like I’m in a very remote area because JCU has been fantastic in providing support with the workshops. So far this year I’ve attended two workshops in Cairns and it’s worked out really well. It’s actually good family time as well. With the last workshop we decided to turn the trip into a family holiday. They came along to Cairns and had their own fun while I attended training.”

While the program staff and educators have made a difference, Dr Akkineni said his supervisor in Blackall has been an amazing support person for him.

“He’s got vast experience so that gives me a confidence that yes I am alone today on my shift, but I’ve got a good backup. We have one hour sessions every week which are organised by JCU. We catch up and discuss the difficult cases and any professional development. I find that one hour very valuable because you don’t always get time in your busy schedule to stop and take stock.”

Outside of the clinic Dr Akkineni said there is plenty of time to take in the local sites with his family.

“When I finish my work it’s a two minute drive home. If I’m not on call that’s my free time. I play with my daughter in the park and take her to the pool on weekends. That is what we were missing all of those years in Adelaide.”

Another pastime Dr Akkineni likes to fit into his day is a leisurely walk around town so he can see his patients in the community.

“You just catch up with them and you see where you’ve made a difference. You don't have to disclose what it is you’ve helped them with, but when you see a person you know, and they know, that you have done something good for them. That's when they come in (to the clinic) and start actually appreciating that this is a good skilled doctor in the town.”

Dr Akkineni said that recognition has had a flow on effect, improving the health of the people in Blackall.

“The best thing is now you can do audits on the patient data and see that there has been improvements in immunisation rates here. We are doing the care plans for chronic conditions. Whenever you see that number going up, you know you are making a difference.”

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