Feature

Is this the most remote private GP clinic in Australia?


Doug Hendrie


27/11/2019 4:17:36 PM

Dr Katie Williamson moved to Nhulunbuy to gain skills in a remote town.

Landscape of East Woody Island in Nhulunbuy.
Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory is where the road ends.

On the map, Nhulunbuy doesn’t look particularly remote.
 
The sixth largest town in the Northern Territory is perched on the eastern tip of Arnhem Land.
 
But it may as well be on an island. It’s an 11-hour drive down the 700 km of dirt road from Katherine in the dry season.
 
During the wet season, the road floods and the only access is by air or sea.
 
When Arnhem Family Medical Clinic opened a year ago, it was met with open arms by the town’s 3000 residents.
 
The clinic’s GP Dr Katie Williamson said the town’s dentist believes his practice is the most remote in Australia.
 
‘That might make us the most remote general practice,’ she told newsGP.
 
‘In the wet season, the highway is flooded and we’re cut off. People have learned to adapt. We get supplies by sea. Most things are shipped into this community, because the road is dirt.’
 
Dr Williamson moved to Nhulunbuy for the job seven months ago, with her husband and daughter. She works part time at the clinic as well as working as a senior rural generalist at Gove Hospital.
 
Her husband works in health as well, and took up a role at the hospital.
 
‘The hospital has been really accommodating. For towns where it’s hard to secure doctors, it can be made easier by helping spouses get employment. Our daughter is seven and she’s loving it,’ she said.’

Dr-Katie-Williamson-Article.jpgDr Katie Williamson wanted the challenge of remote work.
 
Dr Williamson said it is hard for the practice to recruit given its remoteness. 
 
‘The area is well serviced in terms of Aboriginal [and Torres Strait Islander] healthcare through the community controlled organisations. But there have been times where there have been no GPs in the town, which puts a lot of burden on the emergency department,’ she said.
 
‘[Previously], patients have had to fly to Darwin or Cairns to see a GP. Having a clinic here has made a huge difference to the people of Nhulunbuy.’
 
For Dr Williamson, taking up a remote position has meant a chance to gain more experience in rural generalism.
 
‘It’s a really good opportunity to use more rural generalist skills and develop them further,’ she said.

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Dr Deborah Louise Hawthorne   29/11/2019 10:50:29 AM

Hi Katie, I worked in the general practice in Nhulunbuy (along with a full time male doctor) in 2000-2001, while the mine was still in full swing. I am sure a lot has changed since then, but equally sure that the people in the town are very very happy to have you there. I hope you enjoy the experience, and learn a lot. There is certainly opportunity to do many things you cannot do in a less remote setting.