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JCU GP registrars contribute to bringing permanent doctors to rural community

24th May 2018

Barcaldine’s permanent doctor workforce has jumped from three to five thanks to James Cook University (JCU) GP registrars Dr Welwyn and Dr Priscilla Aw-Yong. The local community were grateful when they found out the husband and wife team were permanent staff and not locums.

“For the people in the community it’s a privilege to see the same doctor for their chronic disease, which is something we take for granted in the big cities,” said Dr Welwyn.

In February 2018, Dr Welwyn and Dr Priscilla moved to Barcaldine as part of their GP training through JCU’s General Practice Training program. They were greeted by a warm and friendly community as they took their place at the local Hospital and Medical Centre.

Dr Welwyn always had a passion for emergency medicine. However, it became apparent to him that night shift wasn’t easy with family life. “I wanted a job where I’d have a broad range of acute and non-urgent clinical presentations, be able to get to know my patients both in the inpatient and outpatient setting, and have a good work-life balance.” He discovered training as a rural generalist with an emergency special skill was the perfect choice.

For Dr Priscilla, it was the rural placements she experienced while studying at JCU that made her fall in love with rural towns, the people and their small hospitals. Dr Priscilla said she finds it enriching and satisfying to provide healthcare to people in remote places, who might have previously not had permanent doctors. “It’s also very satisfactory career-wise to be able to see and manage a broad range of presentations in places that have restricted resources,” she said.

Dr Welwyn and Dr Priscilla said they are rising to the challenge in Barcaldine learning to adapt quickly and be creative.

“I’ve noticed patients present much later in rural communities compared to urban areas,” said Dr Priscilla, reflecting on few patients over the age of 80, who waited a week after they’d had a fall before seeing a doctor.

“There have certainly been a fair share of cattle-property-related injury where people have continued to work for days after the injury, as there was no other choice when they’re out on a property with limited transport back to the main town,” said Dr Welwyn.

There is a close patient-doctor relationship in rural communities. Dr Welwyn and Dr Priscilla said they often will bump into their patients in the town. Sometimes they see a patient three times in one day – at the GP practice, the local café and then at IGA.  “Remote areas mean close-knit communities, and we have quickly gotten close to people in the community through fun things like Trivia Nights and social gatherings,” Said Dr Priscilla.

While there is a financial incentive to go rural, it’s not the only thing Dr Welwyn and Dr Priscilla love about Barcaldine. “I love the rural, relaxed lifestyle and the relationships we can quickly build with our patients,” said Dr Welwyn.  “I enjoy working with colleagues who quickly have become my friends and social supports,” said Dr Priscilla. They both also enjoy the pub dinners and trivia nights.

Dr Welwyn remembered one of his favourite patient experiences to date was when he made a cup of tea for one of Dr Priscilla’s patients. “For the next 4 weeks, she would not talk about anything else except how I make the best tea in the world! Who knew you could get the best tea from a generic Bushels tea bag?”  Dr Welwyn said.

With a great scope of practice and experience in interesting rural times, Dr Priscilla said why would you not want to work in a rural community?

“Yes! Come and work in Barcy (Barcaldine) and you’ll never want to leave,” said Dr Welwyn to any doctors thinking of doing rural medicine. Dr Welwyn and Dr Priscilla have heard of many who have gone to work in Barcaldine for only six months and have ended up staying for years. “There’s so much more to a rural town than what you can read online and you have to come and work here to find it out,” said Dr Welwyn.

When asked what his top tip would be for anyone considering rural medicine, Dr Welwyn said to get good at online shopping and fit your car with decent driving lights and a bull bar, as you’ll come across many kangaroos!

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