Rural GP training in the Burdekin
Burdekin-based doctor Michael McLaughlin was a medical student at James Cook University (JCU) when he discovered a love of working in rural and remote communities.
Growing up in Central Queensland, Dr McLaughlin had always been attached to the regions, but it was his rural placements in Cooktown, Innisfail and on Thursday Island that cemented his plan to specialise as a rural generalist.
“These experiences were all really positive and made me commit to the rural generalist pathway. They really made me want to pursue a career in rural medicine.”
During his intern and residency years at the Cairns Hospital, Dr McLaughlin also discovered a love of general surgery, which he was able to incorporate as an advanced skill in his specialist training.
“When I was in medical school and a junior doctor I really enjoyed procedural medicine, but I also found big-city hospitals weren’t the most supportive; they could be a bit overwhelming.
“I found working in the smaller hospitals friendlier and they gave me broader experiences.”
Having completed his training as a rural GP, Dr McLaughlin has nothing but praise for the pathway he chose and JCU’s GP Training Program.
“The last two years finishing my training in the Burdekin at Ayr Hospital and working in the community of GPs has been brilliant. I’ve had broad experience both procedurally as well as in general and emergency medicine, and ward-based work.
“JCU has embedded its culture and mission to develop rural medicine and rural health services and produces a lot of rural generalist trainees.
“At Ayr Hospital all the doctors but one graduated from JCU, and all of them have trained up here, with a few stints in other places.”
The scope of practice and continuity of care Dr McLaughlin can offer his patients as a rural GP has been a major drawcard.
“There are lots of little moments when you get to follow patients. Where you may have started their antenatal care, assist in their caesarean and see them through postnatal.
“Or you might do a skin check on someone and take them through their melanoma journey. You’re then doing their skin checks three to six months after you have cleared them of cancer. It’s that continuation where you get to see them as the whole person.
“When I worked in tertiary hospitals you might see someone for a moment, or you might see them in that acute admission, but you never see them again — you never know what happens to them.”
Even if a doctor doesn’t plan to settle in the regions long term, Dr McLaughlin believes rural and remote training is highly beneficial.
“It makes you a better doctor. You are very aware of those accidents and mistakes you make — you can’t hide from them. You have to learn from them because they are facing you at the shops or the markets or the local club, so you can’t run away.”
As for the lifestyle for doctors in the regions, Dr McLaughlin says it’s second to none.
“I did my advanced skill in Brisbane and I probably wasted about an hour and a half on the commute each day. Here I live across the road from the hospital so I’ve got a lot of extra time. I’ve got into gardening and I now grow my own fruit and vegetables.
“The beach is only 15 minutes away so you can take the dog down and throw the frisbee around and there are a lot of opportunities to go fishing and hiking as well. It’s great.”
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