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Rural doctors anchor communities

8 August 2022

Rural generalist training has brought Dr Matthew Riggs back to his home region.

Dr Riggs, a 2019 JCU graduate, is doing his advanced skill in anaesthetics at Hervey Bay Hospital, not far from where he grew up in Wallaville and Bundaberg. Drawn to the diversity of rural generalism, Dr Riggs did rotations in Ingham and Charters Towers while based at Townsville University Hospital as an intern and Resident Medical Officer.

“People in rural locations really value being able to receive health care locally,” he says. “Rural people are generally very stoic and they don't particularly want to present for health care unless they really need it. They want to be able to receive services locally, wherever possible.

“You can see the impact the doctors make in rural communities because their presence means people have the confidence to stay in their community as they have kids or as they start to age. You get to see people across their entire life, and you get to support them in their community more broadly. I think you can make such a difference in a rural location as a doctor. You get to get to know the patients and you get to see them throughout their entire journey. It's just so broad and patient focused.”

Likewise, the appeal of an advanced skill in anaesthetics is its wide scope for a rural generalist: “Anaesthetics is very versatile, especially in rural areas. Doing anaesthetics, you develop very good airway management skills and skills to manage critically unwell patients.”

“You also learn about acute and chronic pain management. When people turn up to ED or if they get admitted to the ward, you can optimise their acute pain management. Working in a GP clinic, you could potentially address chronic pain management as well.

“The rural generalist training program specifically targets the difficult-to-get rotations so you're guaranteed rotations in paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology and anaesthetics. All of those are prerequisites for ACRRM and RACGP. So by being on the pathway, you can progress through much more quickly than if you weren't on the RG program.” 

He says the anaesthetics team at Hervey Bay is highly supportive. “The consultants specifically find you for teaching opportunities. They take time during cases to explain concepts to you and they're more than willing to teach and just support you in general. The nursing staff, the orderlies, the doctors all work really well as a team to make sure patients get the best care. We provide anaesthetics support to Maryborough Hospital, and their team is great to work with as well.”

Dr Riggs spent the final year of his JCU medical degree on extended placement in Longreach through the University’s 10-month Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship program. “In Longreach, I was able to see patients almost as if I were at an intern level,” he says. “By being in the same place for a whole year, I was able to become a part of the team and I think I got a lot more opportunities. Going to JCU really set me up to get straight into the workplace being effective as a doctor right from the very start of my career.”

An Australian-first study, published in the Rural and Remote Health Journal in December, shows JCU’s extended medical placements deliver a 7.6-fold return on investment, providing both educational and workforce benefits. Of JCU medical graduate respondents who did an extended placement, 84 per cent reported pursuing a career as a rural generalist or GP.

Find out more about GP training in Queensland and what it can do for your growth and satisfaction as a doctor. We are here to help as you make your training pathway decision: sign up to receive updates about AGPT 2023, register for our info sessions, or chat with one of our team.

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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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