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Meet GPTQ Medical Educator, Dr Jess Stewart

Dr John Buckley (featured image)

Combining a love of teaching and clinical work in an Aboriginal Medical Service, Dr Jess Stewart is passionate about supporting Registrars on their path to fellowship.

“That’s part of the fun of general practice. You can travel and work almost anywhere. Or you can stay in the city for your whole career and still have a very rewarding experience as well.”

Across the seas and back again

With South African roots, Dr Jess Stewart was born in the United Kingdom and travelled to Australia with her family as a young child. They stayed for some time, but then chose to return to the UK for another nine years, before coming back to settle on the Gold Coast for good when Jess started high school.

“It’s very hard to answer when people ask where I’m from! But I do feel that Australia is very much my home,” she smiles.

Jess says she first became interested in medicine in high school. Prior to that, she hadn’t given the field much thought at all.

Time in Townsville helped cement the GP decision

Jess first completed a degree in medical science at Griffith University, and then went into their four year medicine program. It was during her university years that she met her husband, who was also studying to be a doctor.

“We both graduated at the same time, so we decided to put in a joint ballot ticket to train at the same hospital. We moved up to Townsville for our intern year and it was fantastic. I got to experience working somewhere that was a little more regional, and with a slightly different population,” she says.

During her time in Townsville, she thought she’d become a paediatrician or a surgeon, but says she ‘quickly realised surgery wasn’t for me’.  At the time, Jess and her husband were lucky to have the opportunity to do a 12 week general practice term as part of their internship via the Prevocational General Practice Placements Program.

“I loved it. It was my favourite part of the whole year. I had some really great GP mentors who showed me what a wonderful job it could be. I loved the variety and how you could really get to know your patients. It was so different to the hospital environment,” she says.

By this time, Jess’s husband was working as a doctor with the Royal Australian Air Force, and was posted to the Williamtown base in Newcastle in New South Wales. She opted to do her GP training there, and then moved back to the Gold Coast after fellowing in 2018.

Varied experience in rural settings and Indigenous health

At present, Jess lives in Currumbin on the Gold Coast and works three days a week at Bugalwena General Practice, an Aboriginal Medical Service in Tweed Heads. She devotes another half day per week to her medical education duties in GPTQ’s Gold Coast District.

Before starting work at Bugalwena, Jess spent a year travelling across different parts of Australia as a GP locum. At the time, her husband was on a six month deployment to the Middle East with the military.

“I decided it was a good opportunity to do some rural work to get a taste of practisiing in some really tiny villages and towns,” she says.

“I went to Tasmania a couple of times and a few different locations across New South Wales. It was such a great experience, and I’m lucky I had the chance to take time out from my urban GP clinical duties to do that.”

Jess says the thing she enjoyed most about rural medicine was the challenge.

“For one of my locums, I was the sole GP in a tiny town on the west coast of Tasmania. The nearest hospital was about three hours away. I really had to rely on my clinical skills more than I sometimes do in the city, where I have tests and specialists at my fingertips,” she explains.

“The team out there was amazing. We had one nurse for two days a week, and a receptionist who really went above and beyond. She knew almost everything you’d expect a nurse to know! The town was so welcoming and I enjoyed being a part of a smaller community. I’d definitely do it again down the track,” she says.

“That’s part of the fun of general practice. You can travel and work almost anywhere. Or you can stay in the city for your whole career and still have a very rewarding experience as well.”

Her locum duties led her to her current clinic with its focus on Indigenous health.

“It gives you that smaller community feeling as many of the patients know each other. I love working with such a wonderful group of people, and am incredibly grateful to be able to make a difference,” she says.

“There are such big gaps between the health I see at this clinic compared to practices that are literally five minutes up the road. I didn’t think there would be such a divide in an urban area. But the gap is not just in remote communities – it exists across the board. I hope to be able to help improve health outcomes in this community that I’m privileged to work with.”

A love of teaching

Jess started on the medical education path while she was still at university by tutoring high school students. In doing so, she uncovered a ‘passion for teaching’.

“I had some really incredible educators, and then some not-so-good ones, in the hospital system who taught through fear and belittling. That inspired me to get involved in medical education to hopefully change that culture a bit,” she says.

As soon as she fellowed, Jess began doing ECT visits for GPTQ. When the opportunity to become a medical educator came up in late 2019, she says she ‘jumped at it’.

“I love teaching a broad range of topics. The best part about general practice is that you have to know a little bit about everything, and it truly is a field of lifelong learning. As medical educators, we also learn so much from our Registrars and medical students,” she says.

When it comes to advice for Registrars, Jess recommends casting your net far and wide.

“A GP career can take you anywhere. Don’t feel you have to stay in one place forever, or have to go one certain way. Be flexible and take the opportunities as they come along. It’s where the rewards are the greatest.”