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Rural generalist dream
Michael Pitt was a 30-year-old dad managing a cattle property near Springsure in Central Queensland when the rural generalist path captured his interest.
“My whole reason for getting into medicine was to be a rural generalist,” Dr Pitt says. “I had heard about it on the radio before I’d even applied to study medicine and I thought, ‘That sounds like exactly what I want to do.’ I still have that exact same goal as when I started.”
Dr Pitt received the RDAQ JCU GP Training Prize in Rural Medicine in 2020 and is starting AGPT training with JCU after completing his internship at Rockhampton Hospital. “I grew up in rural Queensland on a cattle property between Capella and Dysart. After school I went and studied at Gatton College and I graduated with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science,” he says. “I worked on the land for nearly 10 years before going back and applying for medicine at JCU.”
The 'old guy'
Dr Pitt and his wife, Katie, moved to Townsville with their three young children, Abby, Tylah and Lachlan, for his JCU Medicine degree. “I did feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb to start with. I called everyone in the class kids because they were so junior to me, they seemed like kids,” he says. “At first they wouldn’t even speak to me because I was the old guy. But to watch them grow and then actually become friends with them, that’s probably the most enjoyable part of it all.”
As a John Flynn Scholar, Dr Pitt did eight weeks of placement in the central Queensland town of Theodore. The John Flynn Placement Program, matching university students with doctors in rural locations for training, will be defunded in February 2022.
“It was an honour to be part of the John Flynn program because you weren’t doing it because you had to do a rural medical placement to fulfil the course requirement, you were doing it because you were part of something else,” Dr Pitt says. “It gives you rural medical exposure, but it also shows you what it’s like to be an integral part of the rural community. They get you involved with more than just the medicine. I absolutely loved Theodore. It was great to be part of the community, great to be part of the GP practice. To see (JCU GP Supervisor and Senior Fellow) Dr Bruce Chater, who’d been at Theodore for 35 years at that stage, and how the community responded to him and the practice that he built, was really a great experience. I learned a lot about rural medicine and learned a lot about the community.”
Dr Pitt’s fourth-year placement was in Longreach: “It was a completely different model to Theodore but was still in the true sense, rural generalist practice where the doctors are shared between the GP clinic for most of the week, but then they’ll do a few days in ED or on the hospital wards.”
Family and community
Dr Pitt was able to do all of his final-year placement in Mareeba, his family moving with him, and Katie working as a nurse at the Mareeba hospital. “They (his family) were there as part of the community as well. Katie was a very well-respected member of the nursing team at the hospital, and the kids made many friends as part of the school community. As medical students, we got to do a hell of a lot as sixth-years at Mareeba, probably more than what students back in Townsville were able to do. It was a great experience on all fronts,” he says.
Dr Pitt feels he can have a huge impact as a rural generalist, and has received tremendous support from Rockhampton Hospital consultants in giving him more exposure to cases that will ultimately benefit him as a rural doctor. “As a rural generalist we’re not just there to be the doctor and go home. People in rural communities really appreciate the rural doctor because they are the jack of all trades. Patients can come into the hospital with a broken arm but then be able to come and see you in the GP clinic, so it’s a whole of life medicine, really,” he says. “It’s being able to do a bit of everything. You’re actually able to fix real issues that are affecting people here and now, delivering antenatal care right through to end of life care and everything in between. That’s what drew me to rural generalism in the first place.”
Completing six years of medicine while raising a young family – Abby, Tylah and Lachlan are now aged 11, 8 and 7 respectively – with Katie’s nursing work as their source of income was challenging. “Kids are very resilient, so they’ve been great through this whole process of med school and internship,” Dr Pitt says. “It’s definitely a juggling act and there are obviously sacrifices that go with that – we just try not to sacrifice the kids’ experience as much as possible.”
The whole family loved their time in north Queensland and are keen to return one day “We’re still trying to work out where is going to be best for us as a family, but at this stage north is looking promising,” Dr Pitt says.
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