‘This Rural Life’ officially launched

Matt Woodley

6/10/2021 4:52:11 PM

The RACGP project aims to inspire more people to consider a career in rural general practice and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Rural and remote Australian GPs.
(L–R): Dr Melanie Matthews, Dr Brooke Ah Shay, Dr Emma Skowronski and Dr Kerry McHale.

According to the college, ‘This Rural Life’ was inspired by member feedback identifying the need to share the important, complex, and often isolating work of GPs in rural and remote areas.
As a result, GPs across the country are being asked to contribute their own stories to put a spotlight on practitioners at all career stages working in rural or remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
One such GP, Dr Melanie Matthews, said she is proud to tell her story as part of the project.
‘During medical school, I was fortunate enough to get into the John Flynn Placement Program and I chose to come to the Northern Territory and did placements in Nhulunbuy in east Arnhem Land, Groote Eylandt,’ she said.
‘This sparked a love of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.’
Dr Matthews, the New Fellow Representative on the RACGP Rural Council, has gone on to work in Maningrida, the largest remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory.
‘Maningrida is a six-hour drive from Darwin, and it doesn’t have a hospital, so we help care for everyone who walks through the door,’ she said.
‘It can be very challenging at times, but I love my job and the people I work with.
‘One of the things that I love most about working remote is the team environment. It is not doctor-centric, it is about working in a team of very experienced remote area nurses, allied health professionals, Aboriginal health workers, and community workers.
‘They know the community and they help us bring people in, interpret, help us with cultural issues and are integral to providing the best healthcare we can.’
Torres Strait Islander medical student Joanne Kaczmarek has also contributed her story to the project.
Originally a corporate manager in the Australian Public Service, but Ms Kaczmarek’s career came to a crossroads when the death in custody of a 22-year-old Western Australian woman hit the news.
Saddened and enraged at another Aboriginal death in custody – and having always had an interest in health and a passion for serving her community – she decided to connect the dots and become a doctor.
‘I won the lottery, so to speak, when I received my training placement to Thursday Island. Not only did I have the opportunity to gain valuable experience in a remote hospital setting, I was also able to return to the Torres Strait, where I grew up,’ she said.
‘The experience of working in and caring for my community strengthened my motivations to study medicine, I received so much encouragement and support from family and community.
‘While there are very serious health issues in my community, including a high prevalence of chronic disease, I walked away from my training with so much hope for the future.
‘I was confident, I could achieve my dream of working as a doctor in the Torres Strait, and I knew I could make a difference for my community.’
For RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Chair Professor Peter O’Mara, boosting the number of GPs trained to provide culturally appropriate and accessible healthcare will be key to closing the gap.
‘Improving a patient’s experience of health services and increasing access to high quality and culturally appropriate healthcare, including GPs, will contribute to better health outcomes,’ he said.
Professor O’Mara said he was always drawn to working rurally and knew innately that he was going to work in Aboriginal health.
‘That’s the whole reason I became a doctor – it grabbed me, and it was a driver when I faced challenges as a student,’ he said.
‘When I was exposed to racism, I could have given up but instead I thought, “No, one day my community is going to benefit from me being a doctor”.
‘And now I’m so grateful that I stuck to my guns and became a GP; it really feels like what I’m here to do.
‘Working in Aboriginal health can be challenging but it is also incredibly rewarding. I see it in the daily interactions I have with my patients, I know I’m making a difference in people’s lives.’
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements believes the project highlights the unique role GPs play in their communities.
‘As a rural GP myself, I know what draws doctors to choose a career in rural general practice,’ he said.
‘The work itself is uniquely varied and rewarding. No one day is the same, you might get called to an emergency, or you could be supporting a new mum. 
‘General practice is the only specialty that provides comprehensive, whole-person healthcare to someone throughout their life. We really get to know our patients and become a valued part of the community, particularly in rural and remote areas.
‘Everyone deserves access to high-quality GP services regardless of their postcode; attracting more people to choose a career in rural general practice is critical.’
The official launch of ‘This Rural Life’ will take place at 7.30 pm AEDT on Wednesday 6 October, with members able to register via Zoom.
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