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Q&A with Dr Cindi Jackson

Ben Langtree
26 August 2021
Cindi Jackson is a Medical Educator for the James Cook University GP Training program and shares her love of Wide Bay’s rural landscape and how rural medicine can be whatever you want it to be.
Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Mt Tyson, a small town west of Toowoomba, where my class through primary school had between five and eight students. I went to high school in Pittsworth, then moved to Brisbane to do my first degree, in Biomedical Science, and worked for a couple of years as a scientist in histopathology.  I moved to Townsville in my clinical years of MBBS at UQ (before the JCU medical program commenced), interned in Toowoomba, then moved to Melbourne where I did two years of specialist training in Anatomical Pathology. I missed the patient contact too much, so started doing Emergency Department work through rural hospitals in Victoria and NSW, ending up at Noosa Hospital. By that stage, I was weary of the hospital environment and wanted more independence and more fulfilling relationships with patients. So I went into the GP training rural pathway, which brought me to Childers as a GP registrar in 2007. I’ve been there ever since.

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

I was always interested in medical science and developed more of an interest in actually practising medicine as I went through my Biomedical Science degree. In terms of medical education, one of the things I enjoy in general practice is the clinical reasoning combined with the need to be able to make pragmatic decisions in collaboration with patients in different contexts. I wanted to play a role in making sure GP registrars learn those skills, and hopefully, I can serve as a mentor/role model as a GP who is passionate about rural health.

Tell us about your role? 

My role as a medical educator is to oversee the educational delivery of the GP curriculum to GP registrars in the Wide Bay region. I am mainly responsible for Hervey Bay, Maryborough and Childers. Day to day this involves delivering various educational activities, workshops and tutorials for both GP registrars and supervisors, as well as being involved in the whole of program development of educational resources. I also support registrars with training/professional development advice and work with trainees who may be struggling to give them the best chance of attaining fellowship. My other roles include being a GP in practice, a practice owner (with my GP husband), a GP supervisor to registrars in my practice, and a mum to two primary school-age kids.

What kind of partnerships do you build in your role?

My main partnerships are with training practices, supervisors and the current cohort of registrars. We also build relationships with the local Hospital and Health Service, particularly concerning GP registrars doing advanced skills training within our local hospitals.

What do you love most about your role?

I enjoy working with the GP registrars – they are so keen to learn. Having each cohort for a couple of years you get to see them come in as hospital-oriented doctors who develop the skills needed to practice effectively in the community. It is very rewarding.

What special interests do you have in your clinical/training work? Why did you choose these?

Aside from my keen interest in medical education, in my clinical work, I am active in aged care and community-based palliative care. These are areas that are integral to rural general practice and generally receive very little exposure in mainstream medical training. The elderly members of our communities can be so vulnerable, and a longitudinal relationship with a GP can be such a comfort to them as they make the transition into residential aged care. It really is rewarding to be able to offer that to my patients. Quality palliative care, whether in a private home or in residential aged care, should be available to every Australian, not just those in city areas with visiting palliative care specialist physicians.

What is the most memorable moment in training that has made an impact on you?

In terms of moments that had a great impact on me, I had an experience prior to GP training while I was working in a rural single doctor Emergency Department when a woman gave birth at 27 weeks’ gestation. The hospital did not offer Obstetrics or Paediatrics so I ended up speaking with a neonatal intensivist in Brisbane, who talked me through the situation over the phone. He was absolutely marvellous, very calm, reassuring, and practical about the limitations in skills and equipment we had. I think that really influenced me in terms of my educator and GP supervisor role, I want to be that voice in the storm; a steadying influence when everything feels chaotic and registrars feel out of their depth.

Where do you see medicine (and medical training) heading in the future?

I think a crisis is looming for rural and remote medicine. The workload on our existing rural medical workforce is unsustainable. Changes have to be made to find and train values-aligned doctors for rural and remote areas. Working rurally should not be seen as some sort of punishment or time that needs to be served before you can go back to the city. I think the JCU rural pipeline strategy has a lot of merit to this end, and I hope that national policymakers are paying attention.

Have you worked in a regional, remote or rural area that lacked access to a GP? What was the impact on the community?

Access to a GP in the Wide Bay region is not an easy thing to attain. At my practice, we have not had the capacity to take any new patients for over two years. I have bookings six months in advance, which is all too common in our region. Every doctor that we can recruit means better access to patients genuinely in need of medical care. 

What advice do you have for registrars? Why would you encourage them to train or work outside urban centres?

I would advise registrars to think outside the square when they are considering their training. Time after time we see trainees who will only consider training close to their current address. There are so many opportunities to be had in regional, rural and remote locations across Queensland. Rural GP supervisors have an absolute wealth of lived experience and are usually passionate teachers. The scope of medicine in underserved communities is huge, there aren’t easily accessible outpatient clinics so procedural skills are highly valued and sought after. It is concerning that urban registrars don’t get to manage pregnancy beyond 18 weeks because it is managed through the hospital antenatal clinic. Working rurally also doesn’t have to be in the middle of nowhere, though that can be fun, too. I live in a town with a Woolworths and a McDonald’s, 25 minutes from a beautiful beach, and two hours from the Sunshine Coast. Rural medicine can be whatever you want it to be.

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

Professionally, I love the variety of work and the extended scope of practice. I like being an important and respected member of our community. We know each other and we look out for each other. I love living a two-minute drive from work. I love bringing my kids up in a pollution-free environment where there is a real sense of community. And as an amateur photographer, I love the rural landscape, the space, the colours and the whole feel of the bush.

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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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Why train with JCU

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