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12 Jul 2019


In April this year, I was back in my native Canada for R&R – not rest and relaxation – Rural and Remote, a major rural health conference organised by the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada/La Société de la Médicine Rurale du Canada. R&R 2019 was held in Halifax this year in the Spring. It was an occasion to bring frozen Canadian Outback doctors together in a big city during a warm month. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, even the Haligonians (the demonym for someone from Halifax) were shocked with the below-zero temperatures and snow on the streets.

Like our Australian rural health conferences, this gathering was family friendly with lots of fun activities for children and special educational lectures for partners. The Canadians lived up to their friendly stereotype and there was a lot of back-slapping and “how you going, eh?” I overheard more than a few discussions in French.

I was also pleased to see that rural Australia was well represented with a presentation from Aussie Doc Olga Ward on Australian Skin cancers and Dennis Pashen active on Twitter. It was also great to see Dr Roger Strasser speaking about drivers of generalism, as the Dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, he is the grandfather of medical training of rural generalists internationally.

I write about conferences in my articles because they are important for rural doctors. As I have said in the past, they allow us to form those crucial connections which help us to survive in our remote workplaces. But they are also important for our continuing education and development as doctors. There is a lot we can learn from listening to our colleagues. There is also a lot we can learn from international experiences.

I was not surprised to see many of the same topics on the R&R program that I regularly see on the programs at Australian conferences: challenges to providing maternity care, the need for more rural health political advocacy, addressing cultural safety, the lack of rural specialists, the need for more support for families and trainees, and the lack of rural research. Rural generalism was also on the program. It is important for us to know that the issues we face in Australia are not always unique and that we can look to the experiences and expertise of our international colleagues for solutions.

Of course, it is not all the same – I don’t remember ever seeing a presentation on how to ensure your patients do not freeze between the hospital and the retrieval aircraft at an Australian conference, or axe-throwing for entertainment.

Still, there are lessons we can and should learn. There are also lessons we can share with Canada.

Another conference I recently attended was the 2019 AMA National Conference. The content of this year’s NatCon was fantastic, but my highlight was meeting up with old and new rural doctors from around Australia. We met up whenever we could between the sessions, running out of room at breakfast on Sunday to network and share our experiences and thoughts on important and emerging issues.

There were also important debates on the AMA’s rural health policies. The policy debate on the lack of medical research directed to regional Australia was well presented by Dr Shehnarz Salindera, and I look forward to the AMA advocating for a dedicated rural health research stream.

The Great Debate about the Australia’s medical education and training model no longer being fit for purpose provided many unique perspectives on an issue we feel so acutely as rural doctors – the maldistribution of the medical workforce. This debate provided me with insights I would not have had otherwise.

There is a lot we gain from attending conferences. We learn, we share, and we connect. I encourage all of you to attend a conference, like RMA in the Gold Coast, 23-26th October this year. Or why not consider a trip to Ottawa for next year’s R&R 2020, 23-25 April 2020?  It’s a bit later in April, so you might get lucky and miss the snow.



Published: 12 Jul 2019