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If you’d have asked Evan Jay a year-and-a-half ago where he thought GP training would take him, his answer would not have been ‘a small town in regional Queensland’. But that’s exactly where he has ended up—in Chinchilla, to be exact— and this seasoned emergency department doctor with a taste for adventure is mighty glad he did.

From ED to GP—a career switch at 33
Evan is a New South Wales native (he grew up in Wollongong), who completed a double degree in engineering and physics then worked as an engineer for a year before going back to university to study medicine. He became interested in General Practice as a medical student, but after graduation submitted to the call of a surgical career and soon found himself training on the emergency medicine pathway. Six years in, while working as an advanced registrar at Westmead Hospital—in what is arguably the country’s busiest emergency department—Evan had an epiphany. Yes, he was practising valuable and interesting medicine, but the hours were gruelling and the job was draining. Important aspects of Evan’s life—his relationships with family and friends and his mental health were suffering. He knew he needed to make a change.

“I remember looking out at the full ED waiting room one night and thinking, ‘I’m treating category two patients here; trying to keep them alive with emergency medicine, when maybe what I really want to be doing is making an impact earlier,” he recalls. “In that moment I decided General Practice was what I wanted to do.”

‘Google, where is Chinchilla?’
Evan applied to the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) Program in mid-2020. In August he was awarded an RACGP Fellowship place in Advanced Rural General Practice (FARGP), training in South East Queensland. Excited to get started on his new medical journey, Evan made fast work of selecting his first year GP placement from the list of options provided by his RTO, General Practice Training Queensland.

“Should I admit this?” he asks, before revealing Google telling him there was both a KFC and a McDonalds in Chinchilla, was all he based his decision on. “I figured if it had a couple of big food chain outlets the town was pretty well resourced,” he says. “That, and I was ready for an adventure.”

In February 2021 (delayed a few months by COVID-enforced travel restrictions), Evan packed his trailer with possessions and loaded his two dogs, Sebastian and Sydney, in the car to begin the nearly 1,000 kilometre drive north from Sydney.
By then, he knew a little more about Chinchilla…it was 300 kilometres west of Brisbane, famous for watermelons and a moth, introduced in the early 1900s to halt a cactus plague, and the town boasted a competitive soccer club.

“I drove into town and instantly thought it had a good vibe,” he says. “It was early in the morning and there was a magic sunrise.”

GP training in a rural setting
“I’ve worked out that what I want to do with my medical career is try to empower people to live healthier lives and prevent disease,” Evan says. “My first 10 months as a GP registrar in Chinchilla has shown me rural General Practice is a perfect gateway for achieving this.”

He says adjusting to delivering a very different type of medicine after years in emergency care has been pure fascination and enjoyment.

“It’s super rewarding work. I’m surprised and a little chuffed to be able to say that my patient books are already full and more people are waiting to get in to see me.”

Evan describes the training environment at Chinchilla Medical Practice, where practice principals Dr Tom Clarke and Dr Ken Gilmour are his GP Supervisors, as hands-on, but with plenty of support.

“It is a busy, but highly efficient practice and the team are a great bunch of people—they’re already a bit like a family to me,” he says.

With a range of specialist skills training on offer in the practice, including skin cancer medicine, obstetrics and paediatrics, Evan is making the most of opportunities to build what he describes as his own ‘arsenal of GP skills’.

“The practice also provides care for local aged care residents and this is another aspect of primary care I am enjoying learning about,” he adds.

The broad scope of care delivered in rural General Practice delivers the variety and challenge he thrives on.

“I’m pretty confident with my skills in ED, so I like that we get to manage a lot of complex cases here,” Evan says.

Evan has already signed on for a second year of training at Chinchilla Medical Practice and will begin his advanced skills training in anaesthetics in 2023. He also has plans to fit in study for an advanced diploma in emergency medicine.

Living like a local
Evan thinks the ‘straight-out-welcoming’ social aspect of living in a small community is hard to resist.

“This is a really cool town with a pretty eclectic mix of people,” he explains. “There are a lot of young families living here, but with the local solar farms and gas industry there is also a regular injection of overseas workers and fly-in, fly-out workers.”

“It makes for an active social scene, with regular events like trivia nights at the pub and live music.”

Evan is a sporting enthusiast and happy to have discovered that Chinchilla definitely holds its own in the sporting arena.

“I played football for the Chinchilla Bears this season, which was a bit hard on my body but a whole lot of fun,” he says. “We actually won the Toowoomba Cup, which capped off the season pretty spectacularly.” Chinchilla’s close proximity to Brisbane and the coast allows for regular weekend adventures. “I have a bit of strategy for not becoming stagnant or too stuck in routine,” Evan explains.

“And that’s to make sure I get away regularly for a city or coastal fix. I am trying to learn to surf, so I often pack the board on a Friday and head off to Sunshine Coast. I come back rejuvenated and refreshed.”

Camping is another activity Evan likes to throw into the mix.

“The Chinchilla Weir is pretty magnificent and great for water sports,” he says. “I hear the fishing is pretty good too.”

Learn more about the rural GP training experience by downloading one of our Rural training explorer series eBooks. Book #2, Dalby & surrounds is out now.

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