This content is part of a paid partnership with the Government of Western Australia WA Country Health Service.
Opportunities abound for doctors in all stages of their career to experience the rich rewards of rural medicine.
Line up any number of the many Western Australian doctors who work as rural generalists for the WA Country Health Service and there are recurring, impassioned themes.
The work is clinically challenging, varied and exciting, the communities are warmly welcoming and grateful for their doctors’ skills, and the collegiality is legendary.
Such is the experience of country clinical service that doctors of all ages and stages of their career say once they have put the toe in, total immersion is almost inevitable – if not on a full-time, live-in basis, then certainly by embarking on regular locums throughout the year.
And WA Country Health Service is part of that journey.
The well-travelled Dr Daniel Laubscher has found himself in Geraldton via Victoria after he migrated to Australia from South Africa. It wasn’t just the lure of great career opportunities.
“I first heard about Geraldton from a colleague in Victoria who came here as a locum. We were both big kite-surfing fans.”
Nine years on, Dan and his family say there is nowhere else they would rather be.
“I have four children and we fell in love with the landscape straight away. They all take part in water sporting activities and there is a lot on offer from that perspective,”
Dan is a Senior Medical Practitioner in the ED at Geraldton Regional Hospital.
“It is a very high-functioning unit and has been a real motivator in my decision to stay all these years. I really believe in my team and what we are delivering. The work that we do is incredibly rewarding, but it is also challenging.
“The country is a great set-up for doctors who have the ability and drive to develop their skills, and practise independently. It’s an environment where you can grow at an incredibly fast pace and it’s extremely satisfying.”
As for the patients who present to the ED, Dan says many are flown to Perth when in a critical condition, but a good proportion are treated in Geraldton.
“A recent case I can think of is a girl who presented to the ED with kidney failure. She’d recently had strep throat and had bad acute poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.
“We quickly organised contact tracing and established a roadmap of where she had been. Her family didn’t want her to be transferred so we kept her in the ED and managed to treat her symptoms locally, with specialist advice.”
“We had a very good outcome in this case, and she has since bounced back and is in good health.”
Cases like these motivate Dan and the other doctors in his team, seeing patients well, happy and back in the community is a real highlight.
Dr Lucia Wang is a District Medical Officer in WACHS’ Pilbara region. Her North West journey began as a medical student from Sydney University on the John Flynn Placement Program.
The lure of the country and the scope of work was irresistible.
“I didn’t originally have rural practice in my career plan, but once I started, I was sold! What really motivated me was the balance I could achieve between acute and long-standing patient care,” Lucia says.
Once her internship was completed in Perth, she worked in Port Hedland, then did her obstetrics and gynaecology training in Perth, before moving back to the Pilbara where she’s remained ever since.
“With medicine being such a dynamic field, there is always more to learn, and working in rural regions presents a multitude of different cases and learning opportunities. In the ED we get to learn from our FACEM colleagues and WACHS facilitates procedural skilling workshops through Rural Health West, which we can attend in Perth or in the regions.”
Doctors are supported by WACHS throughout their rural adventure. Expertise is gained along the way. There is access to consulting non-GP specialists face-to-face in regional towns and centres, and by phone in more remote locations. There is a 24/7 emergency telehealth service with an emergency physician at your side via video. WACHS sets GPs up for success with lots of options, opportunities and support.
A greater scope of practice was the initial drawcard to go country for GP obstetrician Dr Kate Poland, who says working for WACHS provides the rare opportunity to split her time between city and country.
Kate started working for WACHS in 2014 while completing her GP training in Geraldton, and found her interest in obstetrics and gynaecology supercharged in the regional environment.
“Working in the country gives me the opportunity to work part-time as a GP and part-time as a GP obstetrician, while furthering my education in the area. It is the best of both worlds. Now, for the past six and a half years, I’ve been working part-time in Port Hedland.”
The variety of medicine is what keeps Kate motivated – one day it might be ED, the next surgical procedures or the labour ward.
“It’s just so varied, you get to use a huge range of skills and it’s never boring,” she says.
“Working regionally is a great way to specialise in your field of choice. Mine was obstetrics but I have seen GPs specialise in all areas because there is so much more opportunity out here to develop your skillset.”
And it’s not just the professional challenge that keeps Kate in the country.
“The lifestyle is great. My husband loves the outdoors and there’s really nice boating and fishing in the Pilbara. He loves getting lost in the mangroves.”
Kate’s advice for any doctor thinking about pursuing a career in country health is to just give it a go.
“Don’t be afraid to come out here and try it. I work on a fly-in-fly-out arrangement, and I love it. WACHS provides flexible working arrangements, so don’t be afraid to reach out and start a discussion.”
WACHS veteran Dr Peter Smith is a Procedural Senior Medical Practitioner in Emergency Medicine and Obstetrics. He began his journey in Karratha while his children completed high school, then working in Carnarvon and Esperance, before moving to the Wheatbelt region 10 years ago.
His role focuses on procedural obstetrics and emergency care at Narrogin Hospital.
“What I really enjoy about operating in a rural hospital is being in a small team of dedicated doctors and nurses. We know and trust each other. There is a real sense of community here that you just don’t get in other places,” he says.
“As far as career progression and up-skilling goes, working in rural general practice is one of the best avenues you can take. As there are fewer trainees on the ground, you are presented with learning opportunities you won’t get in other hospital settings.
“It is demanding and challenging, but it allows doctors to try a bit of everything and then decide if they want to continue as a generalist or specialise.”
Peter’s message to aspiring rural doctors is simple.
“If you want to feel like you are part of a community, feel like you’re making a difference, or if you simply want to try living a different lifestyle, you should work for WACHS.
“There are so many benefits to rural practice, and it is an area where, if you invest your time and energy, you can really flourish and grow as a doctor. It is an experience I believe everyone should try at least once in their career.”
Interested? The next step
For doctors keen to explore a rural experience, the first step is to email WACHSDoctors.Senior@health.wa.gov.au or call 6553 0961 to discuss the varied opportunities and requirements to fulfil positions safely and confidently.
Scope of practice accreditation is done on an individual basis because every doctor comes to roles with their own skillset.
WACHS can provide upskilling opportunities for the individual. Further information about WA Rural Generalist Pathway, visit ruralgeneralist.health.wa.gov.au/about-us