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Training for where GPs are needed the most
For James Cook University GP lead medical educator in Townsville Dr Ruth Eagles, training the next generation of doctors for rural and regional communities throughout Australia is a top priority.
“I really connect with the vision of training GPs to work in areas where they’re needed the most and where there is a shortage. So the opportunity to contribute to the next generation of these doctors is something that I am excited to be part of.”
Prior to becoming a medical educator, Dr Eagles spent a year overseas with humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) / Doctors Without Borders.
“MSF provides medical care to the most underserved populations in the world, and I always felt that I should be working somewhere where I was needed the most. In 2008 I went to Yemen with MSF working in general medical care and then I worked on a nutrition program with malnourished children in South Sudan. We also had a cholera outbreak midway through my posting in South Sudan, which was unexpected, so we had to rapidly upskill not only ourselves but also all of the local staff in how to manage cholera. You could say I got a taste for medical education from that moment on.”
Upon returning from her overseas work with MSF, Dr Eagles felt a calling to do GP training. “What I discovered about myself from working with MSF was the satisfaction that you get from seeing these kids grow and get better. They would stay with us for quite a long time, and you’d get to know their families, too. So when I came back to Australia I decided to do general practice, because I really wanted to continue seeing patients, and to continue doing that kind of holistic care.”
Dr Eagles’ desire to make a difference to public health outcomes saw her move to Townsville to complete a Master of Public Health and then take on a medical education role for JCU’s GP Training program.
“Taking on an education role has, in a way, helped me to further explore my interest in public health. I enjoy seeing systems improve and training people to be great GPs is certainly an important part of that. There is very strong evidence to show that when you strengthen primary care and general practice, the better population health outcomes you get. To me, it’s intuitive to focus on preventive health care and on managing health problems early. I would love to see primary care and general practice be a much bigger part of the undergraduate medical curriculum in Australia, and to see that continue through the junior doctor years as well. That would help students to experience what a fantastic and satisfying profession being a GP can be.”
Another passion of Dr Eagles has been her involvement on behalf of the JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry with Fiji National University in developing a Family Medicine training program in Fiji and Tonga.
“What I find really exciting it is to be able to see Family Medicine evolve as a new specialty in Fiji, and have those doctors take on the profession within their local context. You can definitely see the impact that they’re making in their community, and it’s been an absolute privilege to play a small part in facilitating that. Because we have the technology to do remote education, we are able to have the trainees stay in their communities while they do their training. We don’t need to move people out of their communities where they are so desperately needed.”
Dr Eagles is also keen to point out the many benefits of doctors undertaking their training in regional centres throughout North Queensland.
“I think training in a regional or rural centre has got a lot of advantages for registrars. There are a lot of different practices that you can potentially train with and a diversity of skills that you can learn in those training posts. Most importantly, there’s a lot of opportunity to take on more ownership of your patients compared to perhaps in a larger city practice. The expectation in a regional area is often that a GP will have a generally broader scope of practice, performing procedures or providing other services that you might not necessarily do in a place that has a lot of other specialists.”
Dr Eagles’ role as a medical educator based in Townsville also entails conducting regular on-campus workshops for registrars who come together from their various training posts across Queensland.
“Registrars have fantastic opportunities for learning not only in their own practices, but also through a series of workshops that we regularly run here at the Townsville Bebegu Yumba campus. We cover a range of procedural skills that you need in general practice, for example, contraceptive implants, joint injections and joint aspirations. JCU has great facilities to teach registrars how to do these types of procedures before they might encounter doing one in a patient setting.”
A bonus of travelling to Townsville to undertake training workshops means registrars also get an opportunity to sample the lifestyle benefits that Dr Eagles is so keen to promote.
“We’ve got all the services of being in a regional city but without all the all the downsides of living in a capital city. Magnetic Island is just a 30-minute ferry ride away and is a lovely place to go for a kayak or do a hiking trail to see the koalas. People come from all over the world to visit North Queensland and I get to live here!”