Dr Patricia Stuart
Meet GPTQ medical educator, Dr Patricia Stuart
Dr Patricia Stuart was exposed to medicine from a young age because of congenital deformities in her legs. “Even in primary school I wanted to become a doctor,” she says. “I was in awe of them, and thought I would really like to do that too.”
But Patricia was told by her teachers and career advisors that she wouldn’t be able to do medicine: she wouldn’t achieve the marks and she wasn’t physically capable. “That just made me more determined,” she says. “I had to work really hard. And I had to work very hard to get through medicine.”
Managing the Chinchilla Hospital at a young age
Patricia graduated with her medical degree from The University of Queensland at the age of 22. A month before her 25th birthday, she was appointed Medical Superintendent at Chinchilla Hospital, which she says was “absolutely ludicrous”.
“I was too young, too immature, and I was in charge of the hospital,” she says. The hospital had 60 beds, with an occupancy of about 30 beds. Patricia learnt how to manage the hospital with the help of an experienced matron and manager.
An early enthusiasm for rural medicine
Although Patricia grew up in Brisbane, she was frequently exposed to rural life. Her father came from Esk in rural Queensland, and the family spent holidays in the country, on farms and swimming in the Brisbane River. “That’s how I became interested in rural medicine,” she says.
Patricia started her career on an anaesthetics program. But when she moved to the small town of Chinchilla, 300 km northwest of Brisbane, she realised that she could broaden her medical offering while still doing anaesthetics.
Looking after families as a GP
“General practice in a rural area meant you didn’t have to confine yourself to one thing,” she says. “You could still do anaesthetics, but you could do obstetrics, you could do a little bit of surgery, you could look after people, you could look after families.”
“It was fascinating to look after the whole person, not just give them an anaesthetic,” she says. She intended to return to anaesthetics, but says: “I enjoyed working in a rural area so much that I never went back.” She met her husband, a fellow doctor, and stayed in Chinchilla for 12 years.
Developing an interest in the training of GP registrars
It was also in Chinchilla that Patricia found a mentor in Bill Hilton, who taught her about medicine and life and sparked her interest in education. He was a doctor and educator who made learning fun. Patricia became involved in medical education, including supervising registrars.
Patricia and her husband moved to Toowoomba once they had children. She started practising emergency medicine, but returned to general practice because it offered the flexibility to balance work with motherhood.
Creating trust with rural patients
“I found I liked looking after people and knowing their stories,” she says. “I feel very humbled that so many people want to come and talk to me and tell me their problems. I love feeling that they trust me enough to look after them. It’s a huge responsibility.”
“I really enjoy rural people,” she says. “I enjoy the frankness, the openness, the genuineness, the lack of pretension. And mostly, they’re very grateful for everything you’re doing.”
Patricia maintained her interest in teaching and completed a Masters of Medical Education. Her favourite teaching topics are emergency management, airway management and rural medicine. In addition to practising, she coordinates the rural training program for GPTQ and is Director of Learning for the rural clinical schools.
Becoming a GP means a lifetime of learning
Patricia’s advice for aspiring doctors is to listen. “Medicine isn’t something you study an exam for, it’s a lifetime of learning,” she says. “You have to be prepared to listen and not talk for a lot of the time. You have to be prepared to go on learning forever and ever.”
She also encourages all young doctors to do a stint in rural practice so they can understand the rural context even if they work in a metropolitan practice.