In Conversation… with Dr Anthony Rengel
Based in Geraldton, West Australia, Registrar Dr Anthony Rengel spends his days flying to mine sites and clinics, and providing medical services to remote communities. We recently spoke to him about his passion for flying and aeromedicine, and why he loves being a rural generalist.
How did you get into rural medicine?
I started with a Bachelor of Science as I was interested in neurology, neuroscience and psychology. During medical school I be-friended people from the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) through activities with our rural health club Spinifex, and through that I was fortunate to secure a month-long placement with the RFDS. As my final-year elective, I headed to Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region, which was a great experience and good exposure to Indigenous health and tropical disease.
How did you start flying planes?
I started flying when I was 15 as an Air Force Cadet. I’ve had a life-long interest in aviation and space and after medical school I wanted to have a break during those after-hours of studying medicine, so I got back into flying. Through that I was put in contact with local GP and pilot Dr Stuart Adamson, who recommended I start GP training.
What made you want to pursue a career as a rural GP?
It was during my intern year at Geraldton Hospital. After chatting with Dr Adamson, I had a lightbulb moment and thought ‘wow, I can actually combine my interest of flying with my work in medicine, that’s just the perfect fit’.
Rural GPs don’t really have a ‘day-to-day’ but what are some things you normally do in a week?
It really is so varied. I could start the week running a small clinic at a nursing post and end it working in the emergency department and anything can walk in the door there. On the weekend, I am flying to Shark Bay to the mine site and doing the medicals for the families there.
Last week, I flew to a remote clinic in Mingenew, and as I was packing up a patient with a miscarriage come into the clinic. I had no obstetric equipment and had to call a doctor who was out harvesting to assist. Also, with flying you must ensure you have enough sunlight to fly the plane home. I just made it in time, but if it was dark I would have had to catch a lift back to Geraldton with the ambulance, which is around an hour’s drive as opposed to a 20-minute flight.
Another time, I was working at Shark Bay and a tourist got stung by a stonefish while scuba diving. I was the only health professional there, so I had to stay to monitor her to ensure she didn’t have systemic poisoning.
You were recently in the media with your fiancee, nurse Grace Mowtschan, for being in the right place at the right time, following a triple fatality on the Indian Ocean Drive highway.
Grace and I were driving home from work at the time of the accident and were able to assist the emergency crews in looking after the patients. I used the skills I learned in my Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) training, including the Rural Emergency Skills Training (REST) course, to assist in that scenario. I also recently completed an anaesthetics course where I learnt how to intubate someone on the ground — which is what I had to do. Unfortunately, it is a situation you do come across in the country more often than you like.
What are your career highlights so far?
Flying and visiting remote clinics has been an incredible experience. Last year, I attended a space medicine course; meeting an astronaut and the Antarctic medical practitioners was amazing. I also met my future wife Grace, who works as a nurse in Geraldton, so I think it’s important to note that doctors can go rural and have a good career as well as find love in the country.
What do you hope to do in the future?
It’s a good question as Fellowship is starting to approach. I’m thinking of going to Tasmania for further work in aerospace medicine.
I’m also happy in Geraldton and interested in working in more remote clinics or, alternatively, going back to the RFDS. I definitely want to combine my passion for flying and remote medicine in the future, maybe in Antarctica or space?
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