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The joy of mentoring

7th June 2021

Dr Michael Clements is the owner and principal of three successful medical practices around the Townsville region, including one on Magnetic Island. He also conducts clinics across the remote western Queensland and the Cape York region. A former RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) doctor, he was responsible for medical training programs in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and continues his association by supervising Defence Force registrars.

Choosing to be a supervisor

I was always attracted to medicine for the variety of work, the stimulation and the collaboration with other professionals. Part of that collaboration that gives you the most job satisfaction is from mentoring and apprenticing the future generations. For me, it was never a question of whether I would train and support the new generations of doctors, it was just a matter of in what format and how might that look.

The benefits to the practice of training registrars are often the intangibles. The job satisfaction of helping registrars have their ‘ah-ha moments’. It comes from the patient satisfaction when they see one of your registrars and they complement them. It’s the joy you get from finding out that they have passed their exams and are being awarded their Fellowship. Watching someone journey from medical school and junior doctor all the way through to independent practice at Fellowship is a real joy.

When I see my trainees succeed in what they want to do, whether that is with my practice or another practice, or whether they find themselves with a portfolio career where GP becomes a small part of what they do, I always get great hope from thinking that I have been able to impart some of the values of what I perceive to be good general practice principals in them. As GPs, we only get to treat the patient in front of us, but as a supervisor, through our efforts and our time and investment, we are actually able to help not just our patients but the patients of our trainees and the generations to come.

Remote experiences

My practices work very hard to provide broad experiences and exposure for registrars including the traditional full scope general practice and dabbling in skin and nursing home care. But what I really love is to encourage them to get a taste of the best of rural and remote medicine. Taking registrars out to remote clinics with me may be a little bit out of their comfort zone, but they’re getting the exposure while still having the comfort of a supervisor with them to reassure them they are doing the right thing. It’s so important.

This is absolutely true of my own experience, and I guess this is where it came from. My first GP registrar term was in Geraldton in Western Australia. From there we flew out to remote towns to provide care. I experienced what it was like to practice in isolation and I fell in love with it, and always planned on doing that in my post-military career. I don’t expect all of my trainees to end up working rural and remote, but I do expect that some of them will take it on, and the rest will look at that kind of work with a knowingness or an understanding of what it truly means rather than having rural medicine as an abstract concept.

It is important that we train our registrars to their full scope. The examination and the curriculum give them a very broad scope of clinical skills, but if you complete all your training with a tertiary hospital next door there is almost an expectation of onward referrals. It’s only in the rural and remote areas, where that escalation is not available or the patient refuses to seek a non-GP specialist opinion, where the registrar will get more challenged. I absolutely think that exposure to rural and remote practice is crucial, even if it’s not something they are going to do forever.

ADF experiences

Another thing I am personally passionate about is training ADF registrars. We do punch above our weight in that area. Because of my own military service, I am aware of their needs and the gaps. Our practices are big enough so that we’ve got the flexibility for ADF registrars to come and go and we can absorb that. And by me taking a personal interest and having a true understanding of their personal learning goals, their normal work and their training goals we are able to give them a rich experience.

I always take our ADF registrars on our remote trips because it best simulates the deployed environment for them. They are seeking training opportunities in austere environments, so we do take them out regularly and get them to practice in those environments. They love it, they really do.

A job well done

I think for me as a supervisor I have done my job when I see that the registrar has a joy for general practice. It’s not just about passing exams, it’s about understanding what it means to be a GP, to be connected with the patients and connected to the care team, including the reception and nursing staff. When I see that they have a real yearning to do what is right for the patient in front of them that’s where I get the greatest joy. It’s also the joy I feel when I see somebody get up and get their testamur and put on their gown. Even if I haven’t seen them for a year or two that joy is real and keeps me going for the next ones.

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