Preparing for rural and remote medical practice
Rural and remote medicine are mentioned in the same breath, but they offer quite different experiences to medical practitioners. There is no doubt that both these offer some unique challenges not seen in Australian cities and of course the further one travels from the major centres, the fewer medical practitioners there are and the more your learned medical skills will be used.
Google “rural and remote” medicine and a wealth of resources are apparent – ranging from Government statements and documents to contacts for agencies/organisations who provide support and education to medical students, junior doctors and general practitioners working in rural and remote Australia. It is not intended to list all these resources here.
The truth is that we need practitioners in the “bush” in both regional and remote Australia. The communities need the same care as those in the cities and qualified doctors are needed.
This is not new. The challenge is how to attract medical students, junior doctors (doctors in training), qualified and experienced doctors to take up practice (even for a short period of time) in a regional or remote setting.
It is important to know that “doctors in the bush” face some unique challenges which may be personal and social, access to a range of specialists, all the hospital facilities one takes for granted in cities, nursing and other important allied health support, for example.
In a regional setting, there is less likely to be the isolation that is faced by doctors in remote Australia, but nevertheless there are the same issues regarding re-location – schools, jobs for spouses/partners, professional contact and more.
In remote settings the range of medical skills you will need will be broader, the support services physically further away, colleagues more physically distant and fewer opportunities potentially for family members.
However, practitioners who choose this type of medicine find it challenging and rewarding both. It is important that if you are contemplating a change (temporary or permanent) away from the cities, then perhaps a “try before you buy” approach would be a good way to see if this is for you. Locum services will happily find you a place where you can go for a short time. If you know somebody who has been a rural or remote medical practitioner, their insights will be valuable. Remember that “going bush” is a choice as is how long you will remain in such a setting and there are some questions you should ask before embarking on rural and remote medical practice.
Find out as much as you can about the community; for example
- What training (formal and informal) is available and will it be supported by a College, for example.
- What equipment is available – at the hospital – public or private, small or medium sized, at the clinic, in the practice. Are there X-ray machines and access to radiologists, defibrillators, anaesthetics, IT.
- What operating theatre services are available or is minor surgery all that can be done and if so, what is usually sought or needed.
- What support is available – access to a car, other doctors (general practitioner and other specialists), allied health, counselling services, aerial ambulances etc
- What are the demographics of the community – age, gender, health issues – general and particular, socio-economic mix etc
- Find out what skills you might need if there is limited support available and upskill if necessary. It may be like working in A&E all the time so be prepared.
- What educational opportunities are available, and what is the job market like for family members who will accompany you.
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