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Meet Dr Dale Hanson

Dr Kate Wallis (featured image)

From working as a GP to his time as an emergency physician, Dr Dale Hanson brings a breadth of medical experience to his role as the Associate Director Medical Education for PEP doctors.

“If you’re the sort of GP that likes to be active in the care of the whole patient – when they go to hospital, when they have a baby, when family members get sick, even when family members pass – you’re the sort of person that will love rural general practice. That degree of diversity and independence is innate.”

From GP to the ED

On his way to becoming a clinician, Dr Dale Hanson spent time across three Australian states.

“I’ve had a life in thirds. A third in Melbourne, a third in Adelaide where I trained as a medical practitioner, and a third in North Queensland where I practised as an emergency physician,” he says.

Casting his mind back, he believes his interest in medicine began as a young child.

“My favourite TV show was The Thunderbirds, a quirky puppet show from the 1960s. I thought it was cool and wanted to be a part of international rescue when I grew up. I guess it says something about my frame of reference at the time,” he says.

He was also fascinated by the work his own GP did, and in high school, naturally gravitated towards science.

“I was interested in the practical application of science, but also in caring for people. Medicine was an opportunity to combine both interests. My mother was somewhat on the money when she said I’d end up being a doctor or a priest,” he smiles.

Dale went on to study science at university, but knowing the odds of getting into medicine were tough, he took the step of applying Australia-wide.

“To my astonishment, I got into what was then the new Flinders University medical degree. It was a big step to move to South Australia, but I don’t regret it because I think Flinders was very radical at the time. It combined clinical training with training in science, and had a strong emphasis on the social impact of effective medicine, which suited me. It really made me into the doctor that I am today,” he explains.

While at university, he met his wife Jan who was also training to be a doctor with a focus on rural medicine.

“I did my GP training and worked in the field for a number of years, before going on to train in emergency medicine. Jan and I went to Mackay after that as it was a town big enough to have an emergency physician, and small enough to have a rural GP.”

While Dale loved his time as a practising GP, his interest in emergency medicine was strong enough to see him working in that area over the next 22 years at Mackay Base hospital.

“There are important parallels between GP and ED work. Both GPs and emergency physicians have to understand how the community health system works to optimise their care for their patients. They both involve a high degree of uncertainty, as you’re working with patients with an unknown diagnosis,” he says.

Diversity is the key

Dale feels his career is a great ‘illustration of the diverse pathway’ GPs can take.

“My interest in working with communities made me naturally inclined to choose general practice.

Then my desire to maintain my specialty interest took me back to the hospital and emergency medicine. This included supervising junior doctors and international medical graduates that passed through Mackay,” he says.

“Learning the craft of general practice made me a much better emergency physician. Learning the craft of medical education on the floor of the ED made me a better GP teacher. I’ve had all of these wonderful experiences that mean I’ve had a very diverse career, and I don’t regret anything I’ve done.”

In his time working as an emergency doctor in Mackay, Dale witnessed what he describes as ‘an appalling amount’ of severely injured patients due to road, farming and heavy industry accidents. This sparked an interest in community injury prevention and safety, which eventually led to his work as the Chair of the International Safe Community Certifying Centre.

“I’ve done a lot of work with Mackay residents to promote safety and help them prevent injury in their community but also at home, as most injuries happen there. An example is an elderly person tripping over their rug and breaking their hip. That person has a one in four chance of dying within a year, not because of the medical problems associated with injury, but the huge social ramifications that come with it,” he explains.

“If you had cancer and I told you you had a one in four chance of surviving the next 12 months, you’d be appalled. Yet we don’t have the same approach to preventing breaking your hip.”

Dale really enjoys his work in this space as he feels it’s a ‘very powerful way to protect your community.’

“It is an interesting domain because as a clinician, if I engage in best practice, I can achieve about a five percent reduction in mortality, whereas in the community safety practice domain, reductions around 30 percent are achievable,” he says.

“In my lifetime, I and the teams I’ve worked with have saved more lives with our involvement in community safety promotion, than I have as a clinician. That’s not to discount the important contribution you can make as a clinician. It just serves to highlight that by taking a proactive prevention approach, you can also have a complementary contribution that has the potential to be just as powerful,” he says.

When work and family combine

Dale is currently living in Adelaide with his wife Jan in their ‘pre-retirement phase’. They plan to spend part of their time there with their youngest son, and the rest with their older son and his family, including their granddaughter, in Toowoomba.

“Careerwise, I have two teaching jobs at the moment. One is as GPTQ’s Associate Director of Medical Education for the Practice Experience Programme, which is a job share with my wife Jan. The other is as a Rural Generalist Training Advisor with the Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway,” he explains.

“It’s an interesting phase in our lives as both Jan and I are coming together to work, and we’re really delighted to have a shared outlook. It’s interesting though to find your spouse is often more forthright in their communication than people you interact with at work. But I guess that’s part of my professional development, as honest feedback promotes learning,” he laughs.

Helping PEP doctors

Dale has had a long career in medical education, much of it focused on teaching medical students and junior doctors, especially those who practise rurally.

“For many years, I was the Director of Clinical Training in Mackay and that consolidated my interest in working with international medical graduates. They face the additional challenges of adapting to a new culture, a new way of education, and a new way of practising medicine,” he says.

 This is primarily why Dale took on the role of Associate Director of Medical Education for the Practise Experience Programme (PEP) with GPTQ.

“Many of these doctors haven’t had the same training opportunities that Australian doctors have had,” he says.

“The biochemical stuff is only half the story of the healing that GPs provide through our interactions with our patients. It comes down to taking an effective history, conducting a thorough examination, understanding the patient on their terms, and then delivering a management plan appropriate to their needs that will work in their social context. It’s quite a craft and very difficult to learn.”

Dale says one of the most enjoyable parts of his role is being able to provide a level of support many PEP doctors have never had.

“These doctors are so grateful to have help in not only preparing for their RACGP fellowship, but in learning how to become the best GP they can be. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to have a significant impact in the semi-retirement phase of my professional career,” he says.