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Retrieval medicine a passion for Rural Generalist registrar

15 December 2021
Hailing from the small rural town of Rollingstone just north of Townsville, JCU medicine graduate Brodie Norton is a great example of the diverse and specialist knowledge and skills that JCU GP Training’s Rural Generalist trainees bring to their communities.

Currently in his sixth post-graduate year, Brodie has completed his Advanced Specialised Training (AST) in anaesthetics and recently undertook a six-month rotation as a Retrieval Registrar with LifeFlight, based at the Townsville airport.

“I've always had a passion for pre-hospital and retrieval medicine and to be servicing the most rural and remote communities via helicopter and plane, and so I made sure that I met the requirements to become a Retrieval Registrar by designing my training pathway to meet the requirements, and then utilised the additional time allocated by the JCU GP Training program to pursue special interests.

“In order to qualify as a retrieval registrar, you need to have completed rotations in the three critical care specialties for at least six months at registrar level, which are intensive care medicine, anaesthetics, and emergency medicine.

“You also need to be a confident swimmer to complete LifeFlight’s helicopter underwater escape training which prepares you for any aviation emergencies over water, and you also need to have a certain level of fitness. For example, you might have to be winched down by cable to assess and rescue patients in situations where a helicopter is unable to land. Also, some landings on farms or paddocks might require you to walk long distances with equipment and help the crew carry a patient back to the helicopter on a stretcher.”

 For Brodie, the challenging and unpredictable nature of retrieval and emergency medicine is something he thrives on.

“For me the most exciting part of retrieval medicine is that you get to deliver that intensive care level support in pre-hospital settings and have to make split second decisions with critically unwell patients in unfamiliar environments. It can be extremely challenging but I’m one of those types who enjoys the pressure.

“We’re also trained to handle mass casualty disasters that require an ability to triage patients rapidly according to their clinical condition and injuries. So it’s essential that you can communicate well with your team.”

Brodie often travels by helicopter to outlying rural communities, stations and farms, but depending on the situation, a light plane or critical care road transport may be deemed more suitable.

“If we receive a critical roadside incident within 30 minutes of Townsville it’s often quicker to travel there by ambulance. Our pilots need to gather coordinates, calculate fuel requirements and perform vital take-off and landing checks, so helicopter isn’t always the fastest option. If there’s an unwell patient on Magnetic Island or Palm Island and the helicopter is unavailable, we also have the option to travel on water with the police boat. And if we need to fly longer distances such as from Townsville to Mount Isa, then it would be by the Royal Flying Doctors Service’s light aircraft.

“The other interesting side to retrieval medicine is getting to visit rural hospitals and meet the medical staff who work there. However, it’s not uncommon to arrive and find these smaller hospitals short-staffed and under-resourced which is why I’m motivated to stay rural once I finish my JCU GP Training and complete my ACCRM fellowship as a rural generalist next year.”

As part of his rural generalist training Brodie has also undertaken specialised training in hyperbaric medicine so that he can treat patients with diving-related illness.

 “I’ve always loved scuba diving and so I completed a six-month rotation in diving and hyperbaric medicine at Townsville University Hospital. They have a fantastic Hyperbaric Medicine Unit there with a state-of-the-art triple lock recompression chamber which is the only one in North Queensland. The chamber is used to treat diving related problems such as decompression illness which is commonly known as ‘the bends’. We can also use hyperbaric oxygen to manage other conditions such as diabetic wounds, radiation damage, necrotising soft tissue infections and sudden sensorineural hearing loss.”

 “As part of the registrar training I travelled to Perth for a two week course at the Fiona Stanley Hyperbaric Medicine Unit where I completed an introductory certificate with the Australia and New Zealand Hyperbaric Medicine Group (ANZHMG) which now allows me to perform diving medicals.”

 Now on rotation as a GP registrar and rural generalist in Ayr, Brodie is completing the final piece in the puzzle of becoming an ACCRM certified Rural Generalist doctor.

 “My time in Ayr is split between being a rural generalist anaesthetist at the Ayr Hospital and being a GP at one of the local GP clinics. My GP rotation means I get to deliver a holistic continuity of care and build long-term relationships with my patients and their families.

 “Due to the hospital at Ayr also offering a birthing service, my anaesthetic work there includes procedures such as epidurals for labour, spinal anaesthetics for caesarean sections and intubations for obstetric emergencies.

 “Most importantly, I get to work with a really great bunch of doctors who are all passionate rural generalists that really care about their community. Having grown up in a small rural town, I've always wanted to stay rural and give back to these communities as a rural generalist and retrieval doctor, because these communities have made me who I am today.”

 Learn more about how JCU’s GP Training is making rural health matter.

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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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