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When Ben McIlwaine arrived in Goondiwindi at the beginning of 2021 to undertake his first year GP training placement he was worn out after working in hospital medicine, where he’d been planning to carve out a career as a metro-based specialist.

“The high throughput hospital environment turned out to be the opposite of what I want,” Ben says.

“There was limited time to get to know my patients or manage more than one aspect of their care,” he explains.

Enter General Practice and the specialist-style medicine that Ben says training as a Rural Generalist will allow him to practice.

After being accepted into the AGPT Program with GPTQ he was ready to leave the city behind and start exploring life in a rural community.

Ben says he jumped at the chance to undertake his first General Practice training placement in Goondiwindi, working with the team at Goondiwindi Medical Centre.

 

From Melbourne to Brisbane and now outback Queensland

Growing up in suburban Melbourne, Ben says he would never have predicted life as a rural doctor was in his future.

He left the culture and colour of Melbourne in 2011 to study medicine in Brisbane at Griffith University’s School of Medicine and following graduation spent two years working for Mater Health Services.

During this time he undertook training in obstetrics and gynaecology, urology and paediatrics and figured his career trajectory was pointing to a surgical specialty; even though no clear choice seemed to be presenting itself to him.

A three month stint as a surgical junior doctor in Darwin then gave Ben his first exposure to work in Indigenous Health.

The experience helped finally shake loose his already crumbling resolve to pursue a hospital-based surgical career.

Suddenly his mind turned to General Practice—could it offer greater doctor/patient connection, the diversity of medical practice he craved and less chance of doctor burn out?

Yes, Ben decided: it could.

Ben was accepted into the AGPT Program in 2021 and is now pursuing dual Fellowships with RACGP (FRACGP, FARGP).

 

The appeal of rural General Practice

“I am chasing the Rural Generalist skillset because I love the idea of having great skills across any generalist issue,” Ben says of his rural pathway training choices.

“And I love the breadth of learning experiences and exposure to pathology that I’m getting in my training here in Goondiwindi,” he adds.

“I am treating cases that I wouldn’t have seen if I were working in a metro hospital, or even in a suburban General Practice.”

Rural folk make for pretty great patients too, Ben adds.

“Out here there is an honesty that feels different to the city. I’m caring for people who are keen for me to manage their care—they are willing to put their faith in me and that is a great feeling as a younger doctor,” he explains.

 

Ben’s working week

  • Four out of five days each week Ben is consulting at Goondiwindi Medical Centre, with one afternoon spent at Boggabilla Aboriginal Health Centre in the neighbouring town of Boggabilla.
  • One day a week he is based at Goondiwindi Hospital, managing ward rounds in the morning, then overseeing the emergency department throughout the day and covering on-call overnight.
  • Once a fortnight Ben is rostered on to deliver GP visits to the aged care facility in the district.

 

The training support is sensational

With only a few months to go now before he heads to nearby Inglewood for his next training placement, Ben says he feels ‘fantastically well supported’ as an ‘in-training’ rural GP.

Reflecting on his work at Goondiwindi Hospital he says his weekly shifts in emergency and overnight on-call offer a completely different—and more positive—experience to his previous training environment in Brisbane’s metropolitan hospitals.

“Here, I am familiar with my bosses because I have been able to get to know them and develop a rapport with them,” Ben explains.

“And there is always a second person on-call to turn to if I need to.”

He says today’s digital technology makes connecting to specialist support in Brisbane relatively seamless.

“I have access to retrieval services from tertiary centres, such as the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, so their retrieval team can Skype into the emergency department here and I can present cases to them,” Ben says.

“Of course there is no access to instant scans and bloods, but I feel that pushes you to really call on your skills when making clinical decisions—rural medicine is more of an art than a science in many ways.”

With two GP anaesthetists and two GP obstetricians servicing the district, Ben says he has access to excellent advanced skills training.

 

Learn more about the rural GP training experience by downloading one of our Rural training explorer series eBooks. Book #1, Goondiwindi & surrounds is out now.

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