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Dr Ben Mitchell

Meet GPTQ medical educator, Dr Ben Mitchell

Dr Ben Mitchell (featured image)

Ben finished his science degree in 2002. “By then I was sick of studying and university life, and I wanted to make sure I liked this whole hospital / doctor idea before I started medicine,” he says. Ben commenced a year of graduate entry nursing at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) before starting medicine at The University of Queensland (UQ) in 2004.

“I got more experience in Maryborough than I would had I stayed in a metro area. Patients trust you to do more to look after them.”

A shift from engineering to medicine

“In high school I remember thinking I would never become a doctor,” says Dr Ben Mitchell, Brisbane-based GP and medical educator. “In my second year of university, doing engineering, I wasn’t happy and I started thinking about medicine.”

“I took a biology subject and realised that I really loved it. I switched to science with a goal of doing medicine.”

The satisfaction of long-term patient care

Ben has always thought about medicine in the role of a GP, and that’s remained consistent through his time studying medicine and teaching. “That’s where my aptitudes lie and where I can be most effective,” he says. “When I moved to GP training in the community, I was much happier.”

Ben enjoys the variety of interesting medicine and the opportunity to provide first diagnosis that comes with being a GP. “Being a generalist, you see everything. I enjoy seeing a new baby and mum, then an 88-year-old lady and everything in between.” He says it’s also important to get to know patients over time and treat a whole family. “I get to know my patients and take an interest in their lives. It makes my job much more enjoyable.”

Combining GP challenges, research and medical education

Ben’s interest in teaching began in medical school, where he tutored other students. “I enjoyed preparing for it,” he says. “I got a buzz out of it and I always wanted to get into teaching.” Ben commenced a two-year academic post as part of his GP training and started teaching the medical school GP program, which he continues to do.

“I work as a lecturer with UQ and I do mostly teaching, but also some research. My role with GPTQ is also both teaching and research. I am on their research committee.”

Keeping up with medical trends

“I enjoy the teaching side of being a medical educator. I put a lot of energy into it,” Ben says. He also enjoys evidence-based medicine and critical thinking. “I really enjoy reading journals, searching the literature, appraising the evidence. The more I do it the more interesting I find it. I help run the journal club program at GPTQ, and I’ve also started one at my practice. It’s been a big success with my colleagues.”

Early GP experience in Maryborough

Ben started his GP terms in Maryborough, Queensland, and says it was a nice place to begin. “It’s a small rural town, so word gets out quickly that there’s a new doctor. A long-standing doctor left just as I began, so I immediately had something like 1100 patients; I was booked out for two weeks ahead. I was very much a part of that clinic – and therefore the community – straight away.”

Being a GP in a smaller town meant Ben needed to take more responsibility. “I got more experience in Maryborough than I would had I stayed in a metro area. Patients trust you to do more to look after them,” he says. Another benefit to living in a small town is the lack of traffic. “Being able to drive up to Hervey Bay for an afternoon was nice.”

Ben saw his share of skin disease and skin cancers while in Maryborough. “I got a lot of exposure and I got quite good at them quite quickly. Registrars are less confident with skin and musculoskeletal issues in general practice, so to get that level of exposure was good.” According to Ben, skin problems are largely managed in the community. “It’s not often that you see it in the hospital, and it’s not taught to the same degree as other problems.”

Discovering mentors and role models as a GP

Ben says it’s important to have role models, but the challenge is finding the right mentor. “When I was a junior doctor, the Head of Thoracic Department was one who was very influential on me,” says Ben. “I learned that I don’t have to know everything and to be comfortable with that.”

Ben’s biggest influence has been his own family GP. “My GP has been a very positive influence on my family, helping my parents get through various illnesses. When I see other families, I remember what it was like growing up. That’s always at the back of my mind.”