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Meet GPTQ medical educator, Dr Matt Masel

Dr Mike Hurley (featured image)

Dr Matt Masel knows a thing or two about rural medicine. Running Goondiwindi’s sole general practice alongside his wife, Sue, Matt couldn’t think of anywhere else he’d get to practise such a breadth of medicine and enjoy such a wonderful lifestyle.

“Goondiwindi offers us so much. Our kids can roam the streets and we don’t feel worried about them. It’s either a four-minute drive or 20-minute walk to work and there’s no traffic. I get home for lunch most days. Our house is on the Macintyre river that looks out over New South Wales. We look at our situation each day and think – we just don’t know how this could be better.”

Growing up

The majority of Dr Matt Masel’s early life was spent in the city, although he’s quick to point out Brisbane in the seventies was “still a big country town”. However, he did have some rural family connections.

“My father grew up in Stanthorpe as his father was a GP there. My dad also became a doctor but chose radiology. That might seem to be the opposite of general practice, but it is similar in one way. It’s still quite general as you don’t focus on one particular system. On the other hand, you don’t have a lot of patient contact,” he says.

“Dad’s work influenced me a bit, but when it came time to thinking about my own career, it was more aligned with what my grandfather did as a rural GP.”

Trying on many shoes to find the best fit

Matt studied at The University of Queensland in Brisbane, but says his interest in rural practice came from the terms he opted to do during medical school. These were located in Goondiwindi, Emerald and Longreach.

“I also did a term on Cape York with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and it was eye opening, especially visiting Aboriginal communities and seeing what life was like and the challenges they faced with isolation, education and employment. I hadn’t seen much of that and it was beyond the standard clinical training that I’d done,” he says.

Matt says the medicine itself was really interesting. His preconceptions of the RFDS being just a “fly in, fly out emergency service” were wrong.

“It is very much a rural general practice service, but by flying into places to do it. There’s the emergency retrieval component too,” he says. “Funnily enough, that’s exactly what I’ve ended up doing as a rural GP – predominantly comprehensive primary care, but with the add-on of emergency and specialist services required in places where there aren’t specialists.”

The sole clinic in town

Matt’s wife, Sue, decided on general practice quite some time before he did and worked in Goondiwindi the year after she graduated. But Matt stayed behind in Brisbane as he still wasn’t sure becoming a GP was the right move for him.

“I spent three years in the hospital system in Brisbane, trying to be sure general practice was the path I wanted to take. I tried all the other specialties and found I really enjoyed everything. There was no one particular field I fell in love with,” he says.

“I came back full circle to what I’d imagined a doctor was growing up – someone able to help people in all areas rather than specialising in one. But it took me three years in various hospitals and other units to work that out, and Sue waited for me while I did.”

Matt then made the move to Goondiwindi, and both he and Sue have been there ever since – going on 18 years.

“Along with Sue and three others GPs in town, we own and run the Goondiwindi Medical Centre. We have a regular intake of medical students, interns and registrars who come to us for training and teaching,” he says.

Add-on services in a rural community

Matt’s working week involves consulting at his practice and the local hospital, which is just a few hundred metres down the road. He also does regular rounds at the community nursing home where many of his long-term patients now live. As for teaching, he does quite a bit, from hospital doctors to those at his clinic.

“My day starts with an 8am ward round and usually ends by six pm, but I’m on call overnight, mostly to assist with emergency and obstetric needs at the hospital. On occasion, I do some hospital shifts on the weekends to help fill gaps in the roster. It keeps me fresh and in touch with what’s happening on the ground,” he says.

Matt also has training in obstetrics and skin cancer surgery, and says he feels right at home in rural medicine as he’s able to put all those skills to utmost use.

“Being a rural GP gives you increased opportunity to practise your skills and develop them, alongside the fundamental general practice components,” he explains.

The move into medical education

Matt has always enjoyed the medical education aspect of his role, having been a GP supervisor and teacher to registrars, med students and midwives consistently throughout his career.

“I was taught that teaching is part of being a doctor. You get trained and then you pass it onto the next generation by continuing with their training,” he says.

“I was approached about taking on a medical education post with GPTQ and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could as I felt my week was full. But I had a chat about teaching predominantly by video conference and that has made it possible. Without that technology, I don’t think I’d be able to do what I’m doing,” he explains.

Embracing his love of technology has benefited his general practice too.

“I facilitate patient video consults. At our end in Goondiwindi, I’ll have a patient with me in my room and on the screen will be a specialist in Brisbane. It not only saves the patient travel time, but value-adds to the consultation, allowing all three of us to discuss treatment options. I think it’s an example where rural practice provides more than urban practice can,” he explains.

Some unique teaching interests

While Matt enjoys many teaching topics, he particularly enjoys sharing his knowledge about women’s health and obstetrics. But there is also one fascinating subject that never fails to pique registrar interest.

“I have a special interest in zoonoses – infections from animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and kangaroos. I’m kind of the ‘go-to’ on the topic and helped rewrite the GPTQ module about it. It’s actually more common than you might think, and not just in rural areas,” he says.

Advising registrars to give rural practice a go

Many registrars are reluctant to try rural medicine, but Matt says the perception of having to stay permanently is slowly changing.

“We get several registrars every year and perhaps one in ten will stay as rural practitioners. A lot of junior doctors experience rural medicine for two or three years and then go back to the city. But all say their rural training was very useful and held them in good stead when they went back to urban practice,” he says.

As for those who make the decision to train in a rural locale, the best advice Matt can give is to be present.

Stay in town. Don’t head back to the city for the weekend, or when you’re not working. Meet people, join a club or sports team, and just get involved in the community. Get a feel for what living in a rural place is like because you might never get that opportunity again,” he says.

And when it comes to practising rural medicine, Matt suggests being curious by asking lots of questions and advises trying to keep in touch with the rural doctors you meet.

“They can be a great source of mentorship and a link to a future career in rural general practice. I know I always like hearing from doctors who trained with us and finding out what they’re doing years later,” he smiles.