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13 Jun 2019

BY DR SANDRA HIROWATARI, CHAIR, AMA COUNCIL OF RURAL DOCTORS  

What is rural medicine really like?

That’s a question I wish I could answer, but I can’t. I can’t speak for all rural doctors because our experiences and our work are so unique.

Let me give you an example. In January this year I was working in the Arctic. Every day I had to spend an hour just getting dressed to go outside before I could head out on a snow covered, icy vehicle to visit my patients. At the same time back here in Australia, many of my colleagues were supporting their communities through brutal heatwaves and drought.

These are the extremes. But there are people who live in these extremes and, as you can imagine, they have unique medical challenges. I doubt that my colleagues back in Australia were as wary of frost bite as I was.

I can tell you that despite the cold, despite the hours I was required to work for being one of two doctors in town, despite the lack of fresh food, I loved it.

Earlier this year we held an AMA Council of Rural Doctors meeting and one of our conclusions was that we need to emphasise the positives of rural medicine. Too often we hear the doom and gloom. We know that rural doctors work longer hours and that there is chronic underfunding. We know that there are towns with no doctors. It’s a catch 22: we keep telling everyone how hard it is to be a rural doctor to try and get more resources and then complain that we can’t attract enough doctors.

Well I’m here to tell you that despite the challenges, rural medicine is fantastic. I am never going to give it up. Despite the concerning picture that the 2019 AMA Rural Health Issues Survey painted of rural medicine, we were so thrilled to read the heart-warming comments from rural doctors about the satisfaction and joy they get from working and living rurally.

Let me share a few of my favourites:

“I love living [here] – the people, the diversity of practice, the location. It has everything a family needs. I know every day I make a big difference to the health of our town.”

 

“It is hard but rewarding. Less access to specialists, psychologists and even big State hospitals, but it’s a joy to grow the relationships with my patients both professionally and as me being just a next-door neighbour in a small country town.”

 

“It is expected and rewarding to provide ‘womb to tomb’ obstetric, anaesthetic, ED, general medicine and palliative care to my patients. I appreciate greatly the opportunity to use all my skills on a continuing basis. I cannot imagine the hell of urban practice…”

 

“My family lives on 100acres 10min from their school and my admitting hospitals.”

 

“Patients are more appreciative and less demanding.”

 

“[The] Community spirit, opportunity to provide extended level of care that I would not get to provide in capital city.”

 

“[The] lack of driving, clean air.”

 

“Rural GPs are very respected in their communities. They live in the most astonishing places. Safe places away from the rat race. Rural Australia is a great place to raise kids.”

 

“No traffic lights.”

 

It is still hard, but there are so many benefits to rural medicine. We use a broader range of skills, we develop meaningful relationships with our patients and communities as we provide womb to tomb care, and we don’t have to deal with traffic.

Are you curious about rural medicine? Reach out to one of us. Ask us what it is really like. Give that friend of yours from med school who works rurally a call and ask them what it’s like. Better yet, go visit them. Go fishing.

We want you to come and work with us. We want you to see what rural medicine is really like. Who knows? You might find that you love it and want to become one of us.


Published: 13 Jun 2019