RACGP project seeks to inspire a career in rural and Aboriginal health

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

21/07/2021 3:48:33 PM

The first stage of ‘This Rural Life’ has now launched with a photo competition that is open to all members.

A woman holding a camera.
The ‘This Rural Life’ photo competition is open to all members of the RACGP, including Fellows, GPs in Training and medical students.

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, which is why the RACGP has decided to run a photo competition to showcase the experiences of members working in rural or remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
Launched as part of ‘This Rural Life’, a new collaborative project of the college’s Rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health faculties, it aims to inspire others to pursue a career in rural general practice by showcasing the diverse work and skills being carried out in communities across Australia.
‘We know that our rural doctors and those working in Indigenous communities have some of the highest levels of professional satisfaction and personal satisfaction in their roles,’ Dr Michael Clements, Chair of RACGP Rural, told newsGP.
‘So we’re hoping that through using the photo competition and using these stories, we can really connect with and engage with the membership to think about taking on some of this work.’
That has certainly been Dr Clements’ experience.
Based in Townsville, he regularly undertakes rural and remote locum work, and says the diversity he encounters every day is one of things he loves most about being a GP.
‘When we go to rural and remote communities to provide healthcare in those regions, we get exposed to an amazing diversity of Australian culture, community, but also geography,’ Dr Clements said.
‘Earlier in the year I got to go to the Northern Territory and experience Katherine Gorge and the Katherine community. I got to see Maningrida, which is in East Arnhem Land, and the sunsets on the water, and the greenery and the vegetation after flying over Kakadu to get there.
‘These places that are off the beaten track often hold really wonderful surprises.’
What makes these experiences particularly enriching, Dr Clements says, is having the opportunity to gain insight into the country’s First Nation’s heritage.
‘I’ve been privileged to do placements in Katherine, outside Kalgoorlie and outside Broken Hill, where we can provide Indigenous health care, but also get shown through some of their traditional lands and their cave paintings, and just get a real sense of what makes that place special,’ he said.
‘The richness in coming out to these communities is really part of the joy.’
Professor Peter O’Mara, Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, was always drawn to working rurally, and says he innately knew that he was going to work in Aboriginal health. 
‘That’s the whole reason I became a doctor – it’s just something that grabbed me,’ he said.
‘I used that for a driver as well when I was under pressure as a student. When I was exposed to racism, I thought “I could just not be here at uni” … but then I thought “No, one day the community is going to benefit from me being a doctor”.’
Asked about the main differences he has observed working in Aboriginal health as opposed to mainstream general practice, Professor O’Mara can’t help but smile.
‘The laughing,’ he said. ‘We’re laughing all the time and sometimes you’ll have the patient laughing or there’s people laughing outside your door and you’ve got someone in tears [in your consulting room] – that can be challenging.
‘And then there’s the depth of the work. You’ll hardly ever get anything where you go “Oh wow, this is just easy” … and even if it is, then you go “Oh how are things at home? How are things at work?” There’s always so many layers to it.’

This-Rural-Life-photo-comp-Article.jpgPhoto submissions should capture an experience while working in primary care in rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. (Image: Ada Parry)
It is these interactions in his day-to-day life as a GP, that bring Professor O’Mara a sense of satisfaction that in some way he is contributing to a better world, by improving people’s lives.
‘People take you into the parts of their life that no one else ever gets to see and they share that with you. I don’t know where else you can do that,’ he said.
‘I still drive to work after all these years and some days I just go “I can’t believe I’m a doctor, I can’t believe I’m going to do this”. I just think it’s part of what I’m here to do.’
However, in among the reward, Professor O’Mara admits that there are challenges.
‘There’s stuff that breaks your heart,’ he said.
‘There are people that are dying or suffering who shouldn’t be; you just think it’s never enough. But then the good things, on average, for the practitioner I think outweigh that.
‘I just can’t imagine doing anything else. I feel so privileged and so lucky to be in this position.’
Dr Clements agrees that general practice in many respects can be ‘really hard work’. He says for urban doctors, the diversity of rural and remote work can help to reinspire.
‘If we spend five days a week or more in the confines of our treatment rooms dealing with complex problems and chronic disease, we will burn ourselves out and we can lose that love for community and love for our work,’ he said.
‘And so if we spend a little bit of time outside our consult room enjoying the culture, the community, the country, then that actually energises us and helps us when we go back to the consult room.’
The ‘This Rural Life’ photo competition is one way the faculties are hoping to get this message out.
Now open, photo entries should capture the experiences of members working in primary care in rural or remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
Each submission must include a title and photo description of up to 150 words, including which Country they work and live on.
The winner will be awarded a free digital registration to GP21 and the runner up will receive $150, as well as an RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health commemorative polo.
The expert judging panel will include representatives from the RACGP Rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health councils, with the top 10 selected photos to be featured throughout the ‘This Rural Life’ project.
‘We should all look at the community around us and understand why it’s special; talk to the locals about what makes it special to them,’ Dr Clements said. 
‘What we’re trying to do is share those stories through imagery – and it’s not just about sunsets and vistas, it’s about community, connection and heritage, and the GPs’ role in the community.’
Entrants must be a member of the RACGP and only one submission is permitted per person. Entries close on Monday 9 August 2021. More information is available on the RACGP website.
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