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Sexual health in the sunshine

14th May 2019

Specialising in sexual health in regional and rural communities was always on the cards for Canadian doctor, Ian Anderson.

His journey to become a General Practitioner (GP) started while working in the public health sector in Vancouver.

 “I had the chance to interact with the stakeholders in the sexual health space, not only in Vancouver but in regional parts of British Columbia as well. There is an imperative need for clinicians who understand the issues at both the clinical and public health levels, especially the subspecialty of sexual health and HIV.”

The experience set him on a trajectory that found him studying medicine in Australia.

After interning in Brisbane and Hervey Bay, Dr Anderson made the move north to enrol in James Cook University’s (JCU) GP training program and take up a Principal House Officer position at Cairns Sexual Health.

“I knew that I wanted to be a GP but had an interest in HIV and sexual health; the job was really a perfect fit for me. I was motivated to learn about the clinical side of HIV and sexual health and know that I could take that forward into my GP training.”

Dr Anderson has gone from strength to strength during his year of specialisation. He said the opportunities afforded to doctors in regional areas are a major drawcard.

"I think for me and for a lot of people who train regionally, you choose it because you want a broader breadth of experience.  You want to be able to engage more with the community, you want to get to know the clinicians in the area so that you can call on them and ask for advice.

"Professionally it’s been wonderful being here and able to explore this specialty; it’s a fairly niche opportunity.  During the year, I’ve had the chance to engage with Hepatitis C programs in the community with needle and syringe programs and in the custodial setting. Through this work, I’ve been called upon by community members to give talks and do workshops. I've loved that as part of my job as I can have a hand in creating a vibrant community and positive health workforce here.

“I know this wouldn’t be the same in a bigger centre. There would be many more people in my position and we would have to share these opportunities."

Landing smack bang in the middle of a syphilis epidemic, Dr Anderson said he feels like he can make a real difference.

“That’s been interesting to be in this clinic at this moment in time. Our clinic is involved in the region through outreach projects, upskilling community members, and engaging nurses and doctors. It's been quite exciting to be involved."

“I've really lucked out being here. Because we are the only public sexual health clinic in the region, so we get the chance to see a phenomenal diversity of people and presentations. Being able to learn from that has been great and something that I definitely wouldn't have gotten in a bigger centre."

In the coming years Dr Anderson will stay in the Cairns region to begin the GP component of his training in Innisfail and Tully. Dr Anderson said he is grateful for the mentorship and training he’s received so far from Queensland Health and JCU.

“I've met some absolutely fantastic clinicians here. The medical staff are just wonderful. They have been really exciting to learn from and watch their process, setting what I need to be learning throughout the year and what I can take into my GP training. I know those relationships will continue beyond this year and I will be able to, both professionally and personally, call on them if I need some support.

“I get a lot of external support from the GP training provider (JCU) as well. I've been well linked with the people at JCU who have helped in setting the path and identifying which check marks I have to meet throughout the year and making sure I am reaching these goals.”

In his down time Dr Anderson enjoys immersing himself in all Cairns has to offer.

 “Evenings and weekends, I've tried to explore the area as much as possible. You go a little bit up the coast and you get just spectacular beaches. Port Douglas is up there and some really interesting little places you can spend a day at. There's the rainforest a bit further up, so I really like doing some longer hikes during the day. Then summer hits and you want to be more in the water. I've done scuba diving and some of the other touristy things around Cairns. I’m also involved in the local production of Wicked. I’ve loved that because I’ve been able to meet people from outside the health sector; something I haven’t been able to do with a hospital roster!”

“On the drive to work every day I feel like I'm in awe of where I'm living. You've got mountains on one side and the ocean on the other side and in between you have the cane fields. It's harvest season right now so you get that whiff of that sweet smell in the air and it's magical... I love it.”

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