When Dr Annabelle Hughes began her medical career, she had no idea she’d end up choosing to train as a rural GP. Here she explains how she came to the decision to join the rural pathway, and why she’s excited to see where it can take her.
A slightly different training road
“I did my internship at Mater Hospital in Brisbane, and then my Junior House Officer (JHO) year at the Queensland Children’s Hospital focusing on paediatrics. When I made the decision to join ACRRM last year, I felt like I needed a bit more adult exposure, so I decided to do a rotational Senior House Officer year, before heading out west to do the rest of my rural generalist training,” she explains.
When quizzed about where she’d like to go ‘out west’, she’s open to the many possibilities.
“I’ve been to Kingaroy and Cherbourg before and really enjoyed my time there, so perhaps I’ll return. But I’m really happy to go anywhere!” she smiles.
A little taster of rural life early on
Annabelle says her decision to train via the rural pathway surprised a lot of people, including herself.
“I’m not someone that was born in a rural community. I’m Brisbane born and bred. But if I look back, I suppose there is a small connection between my upbringing and my rural interest, as both my mum and dad either have a rural background or rural work experience,” she says.
Annabelle’s father was raised in Childers, while her mother worked as a rural nurse in Jandowae and Dalby. She says she spent many summer holidays in Childers, and continues to visit family who are dotted along the rural Queensland coast.
“I’m a good example of a city girl who has some small rural roots. But I didn’t realise rural generalism was what I want to do until I actively sought out more information,” she explains.
Making the discovery
Annabelle went into her JHO year at Queensland Children’s Hospital convinced she’d end up working in paediatrics. But partway through, she felt a yearning to practise a broader range of medicine.
“I wanted to be able to help people from all different backgrounds and at different ages. And I realised at that point that the rural generalist pathway offered this,” she says.
For Annabelle, it was the scope and variety of rural GP practice that really drew her in.
“Rural doctors handle a huge breadth of patients and a wide range of presentations, and that really appeals to me. There’s also diversity in where you can work, whether that’s at the local hospital, emergency department, or in remote or regional community GP clinics,” she says.
“I’ve also worked as an Indigenous health coordinator for the not-for-profit Hope for Health, and that sparked an interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. The role helped me see the huge health inequities they face, so it’s another area of rural work I’d love to do.”
Her rural placements helped solidify her decision
Over the last few years, Annabelle and her partner – who is training to be an anaesthetist – have also taken the opportunity to travel overseas and do voluntary rural work placements.
“We spent three months in rural Papua New Guinea, and have just come back from the Solomon Islands. These placements gave us the chance to give back to resource-poor communities with limited healthcare support. Both experiences were amazing and extremely rewarding, while also giving us a big dose of perspective, and a desire to continue to help those in rural settings,” she explains.
Being open to making it work
Right now, Annabelle and her partner are both working at Toowoomba hospital, but she says she can see they will have some ‘long distance’ years ahead of them, particularly when she trains rurally and he trains in metropolitan hospitals.
“People often say to me, ‘Your partner is doing anaesthetics and you want to be a rural GP? You’re never going to make that work’. While I know it will be a little tricky, we’d like to live somewhere on the periphery, so I can drive out to places that are a bit more rural, and he can drive in to somewhere a little bigger. I think it will be similar to what my mum and dad did,” she explains.
“Ultimately, you just have to support each other to do what makes you happy and fulfilled. While we obviously don’t know the logistics of what that looks like for the rest of our training and careers, there are plenty of opportunities to make it work. We’re committed to making that happen.”
Annabelle’s advice if you’re considering training rurally
The first piece of guidance Annabelle offers medical students, junior doctors and registrars is to actively seek out experiences you wouldn’t normally consider.
“It’s a really good way to test yourself, and to see if there are other parts of medicine you might enjoy and find interesting. One of the ways I uncovered a love of rural medicine was by doing voluntary placements in remote areas of need. It was so rewarding to first find out I can competently manage a huge range of patients, and two, be able to service a whole community.”
Annabelle says the key thing that ‘got her over the line’ in choosing the rural pathway, was doing her due diligence in researching the role of a rural GP.
“Talk to as many people as you can. I didn’t have many rural doctor contacts, but I was persistent in asking around and establishing a network. I drew on the expertise of the Queensland Rural Generalist pathway staff, but I also did lots of online research, weighing up the pros and cons. Of course, I also read through the fellowship handbook so I was clear about the training program and what opportunities are available. I found out that the more I knew, the more I realised rural medicine was my best fit,” she says.
Picking the right RTO
Annabelle thought long and hard about which RTO to train with, particularly as she was willing to move around Australia. She ended up picking GPTQ for a number of reasons.
“They have a wide range of patient population across the region, in big hubs like Toowoomba, to smaller areas like Taroom and Wandoan, to the indigenous populations out in Cherbourg and Murgon. Given Indigenous health is one of my interests, I’d love to have a chance to work in these places,” she explains.
“GPTQ also has a good mix of training settings, including tertiary centres with a variety of specialised skills for my AST training. They also have some structured education and support around passing exams.”
“But the main reason I chose GPTQ is South East Queensland is my home, and where I want to build my life. I have family and friends here, as well as a partner and a foster child I mentor. I know when I do my GP placements, I’ll be a little further away. But I’ll still be closer than I would be if I were to train somewhere like the Northern Territory. I’ll also have a chance to establish relationships with a rural community now, gleaning important feedback about their needs. This will help inform my future decisions about skills training,” she says.