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15 Nov 2018


Rural Medicine Australia is the biggest Australian conference focusing on rural medical issues. There aren’t many of you rural doctors, too few of you as a matter of fact, but still we meet every October. This meeting is getting bigger and bigger, in fact there were over 750 delegates at RMA18 in Darwin this year – that’s big.

Representatives from both State and Federal politics attend this conference. I heard that this year Federal Department of Health representative quietly went to multiple sessions to listen and absorb what us rural doctors were troubled by and advocating for. Shadow Health Minister Catherine King came to us in person to address the crowd, Rural Health Minister Bridget McKenzie relayed a taped message.

The Keynote addresses were each inspiring:

  • Dr Jillann Farmer, the Medical Director of the United Nations’ Medical Services Division, and a former rural Australian GP who stated she was an expert of nothing, but her generalism was her strength.
  • Orange Sky Laundry, networking and peer support disguised by a free laundry service.
  • Donna Ah Chee, the CEO or the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress of NT, an inspiring powerful Aboriginal woman.
  • The Rural Health Commissioner, Emeritus Professor Paul Worley, discussing something other than the National Rural Generalist Pathway, talked about the backbone behind all rural doctors – our families.
  • Glenn Singleman, an extreme sport enthusiast and a rural doctor, taught us that whether it’s base jumping or remote resuscitations, it is all about perception and fear

There were plenty of skill enhancing sessions, such as ENT emergencies, ophthalmological emergencies, Rural emergency workshops, and, most memorably, trauma management done outside in the stinking humidity – a real life Australian simulation.

However, many of the workshops and break-out groups were focused on the business end of life in rural Australia. For students there were lessons for preparing for exams from those who have sat them and help with career planning. There were rural women workshops focusing on the subtleties of bullying. And then there were discussion on how to survive, with stories from as far as Japan and from each State and Territory and across the medical specialties.

Rural doctors also know how to party. Every night of the conference there were events happening. Even after the conference finished I noticed there were harbour cruises, surfing in the wave pool and visits to the RFDS museum.

I have been to many conferences over the years, but this one is unique. The networking among rural doctors is so much more important for rural doctors because it becomes our safety net when we go back to the isolated areas where we live and work. We learn names and see faces – new and old – and we begin to learn who we can turn to. We also learn who we need to provide support to and foster a career in this challenging but rewarding part of medicine.

We leave the conference inspired – with good memories and a to-do list of projects for the year that follows.

RMA19 will be at the Gold Coast in October next year. Mark it on your calendar and I will see you there.

Published: 15 Nov 2018