‘I came back as soon as I could’: Why this GP in training is staying rural

Morgan Liotta

9/08/2022 4:48:38 PM

As applications for the college’s new Rural Generalist Fellowship open, newsGP speaks to Dr Ellie Woodward about the ‘incredible’ draw of the country. 

Dr Ellie Woodward
Dr Ellie Woodward is a GP in training and public health registrar at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Alice Springs Centre for Disease Control. (Image: Supplied)

For Dr Ellie Woodward, the first time she experienced the landscape and community of the Northern Territory was enough to bring her back.
Originally from New Zealand, Dr Woodward moved across the Tasman Sea in 2012 to study medicine in Sydney. It was during this time she was given the opportunity to travel to the Northern Territory for an elective placement with the Royal Darwin Hospital physician outreach service.
‘I was immediately drawn to the incredible country and cultures of the Territory,’ Dr Woodward told newsGP.‘I came back as soon as I could.’
After working as a registrar in medicine and public health in Darwin, she began her general practice training in Alice Springs – traditional name Mparntwe – in 2021.
Since then, there has never been a dull moment for the GP in training, who this year is splitting her training between the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and the Alice Springs Centre for Disease Control, in addition to completing dual training on the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) Program and an Extended Skills Post in Public Health with the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine.
All the while she is being enriched by what her surroundings offer.
‘It’s a privilege to live and work on Arrernte Country, and I’ve been fortunate to engage in two-way learning with patients and colleagues here to learn more about central desert cultures,’ Dr Woodward said.
‘I’ve been hooked by the close-knit community, natural surroundings and unique medicine of Central Australia, and look forward to continuing my practice here after finishing training.’
The benefits of training and working in rural general practice across Australia are well recognised, with the recent launch of the RACGP’s Rural Generalist (RG) Fellowship as part of the AGPT Program designed to deliver more highly trained specialist GPs with additional skills to rural and remote communities, while helping to address GP workforce shortages in these areas.
Dr Woodward will begin her RG Fellowship training next year and has applied to work as a fly-in fly-out doctor to remote communities around Central Australia.
‘I’m excited about the skills I’ll develop to feel confident working in a remote hospital and clinic,’ she said. ‘These are the sorts of opportunities you get with rural training.’
Areas in which she expects to upskill include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, tropical medicine, emergency medicine and procedural skills.
‘And, of course, comprehensive and thorough community medicine,’ she said.

Alice-Springs-article.jpgDr Woodward finds many everyday rewards as a GP providing care to the Alice Springs community.

In the meantime, Dr Woodward continues to find the everyday rewards in rural general practice, through being able to commit to the ‘entire patient journey’ and take on extra responsibility when there may be limited patient access to other specialists.
‘Rural GPs get to manage issues that would typically get referred to a specialist in an urban centre, for example antenatal care,’ she explained.
‘GPs in rural areas also get the chance to get to know the communities they’re serving on a deeper level than in many urban settings, with entire families attending the same clinic over time.
‘I feel passionately that a good relationship with a GP can significantly improve health outcomes. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing I’ve made a positive difference in someone’s day. People often dread going to the doctor, and it’s obvious when they walk into the room if they don’t want to be there.
‘Building rapport and providing a positive healthcare experience is a hugely rewarding part of the consult for me – and hopefully helps to reduce the patient’s anxiety next time they seek care.’
Choosing a career in general practice has led Dr Woodward not only to build connections with her community, but allowed her to work across multiple specialty areas she is passionate about, such as women’s health, mental health and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
‘With general practice, I’m able to practice in each of these areas, every day,’ she said.
‘I’ve worked in various specialty areas over the years but found I always missed the diversity in presentations that general practice allows.
‘There are opportunities to work in a vast range of settings, organisations and sub-specialty areas including remote clinics and tertiary hospitals.’
Being able to incorporate a public health placement within her general practice training has also provided the opportunity for Dr Woodward to ‘work at the interface’ of primary and preventive medicine.
As for training and working in the Northern Territory, Dr Woodward has been given a ‘far greater’ appreciation of the challenges faced by remote doctors, and the critical role of rural generalists in these settings.
‘[Being in the NT] has widened my perspective of what general practice can look like,’ she said.
‘I’ve worked with GPs who specialise in emergency and retrieval medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, public health, and surgery.
‘It’s inspiring to see the rich and varied careers my supervisors in the NT have had.
‘My message to anyone considering becoming a rural GP is to give it a go while you’re a registrar – that’s the time to try these things with the support and supervision from your college.’
Junior doctors can apply to undertake the new RG Fellowship through the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) Program. Applications for the RACGP’s second intake of the AGPT Program 2023 opened this week, and will remain open until 30 August 2022. More information is on the RACGP website.
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Dr Daniel Thomas Byrne   10/08/2022 8:18:16 AM

…..and to top it off Ellie has joined the new RACGP NT Faculty. Love your story Ellie.

Rodney Jones   10/08/2022 9:18:54 AM

Go Ellie . All you really need is heart and steel ..... and being a card carrying Ninja helps. Don't forget the RANs

Dr Christine Linnette Troy   10/08/2022 10:42:12 AM

It's so lovely to have some positives come through. The training Ellie is electing to do will make place her well in this community, and it may well be that someone like her, can help pave the way, with insite, for the much needed health advocacy.