Your medical school years are the ground on which you build your career as a doctor. But many med students feel a reluctance to complete their clinical training years in a rural setting. Not so for Eric Nguyen. Here he shares what led him to his decision to head up to UQ’s Rural Clinical School in Toowoomba, and why you might like to consider doing the same.
The road to UQ
Eric’s interest in medicine first sparked at the tender age of eight.
“I was in grade three and we had a school event called ‘The Night of the Notables’. We had to research a notable person and I happened to stumble across Fred Hollows. I was so inspired by the work he did to address health disparities and healthcare access for those living rurally compared to their metro counterparts, especially his work with Indigenous Australians. I have a Vietnamese heritage and that was also just one of the many third world countries where he worked,” he says.
“It was at that point I decided that medicine could be a great choice for me, and I firmed up my decision in late high school.”
Eric grew up in Melbourne but was determined to get into medicine, so applied broadly to a range of universities throughout Australia. He was successful in getting a spot at UQ in Brisbane.
“Initially, the move to Queensland was hard. While I still miss my family a lot, I’ve really enjoyed living here,” he smiles.
A fortuitous rural placement
During Eric’s second year of med school, he was lucky to be a participant in the John Flynn placement program. It took him to the tiny town of Clermont where he got his first taste of rural medicine, an experience that will ultimately shape his future career.
“I was at the Clermont Country Practice for three weeks and the doctor there was very supportive and a great mentor. I feel like I got most of my learning during that placement,” he says.
“I developed my venipuncture and suturing skills, I practised taking patient histories and physical examinations. It really put me in good stead going into my third clinical year and helped me clearly see a rural clinical school was the right choice. And that’s why I’m here now.”
Roma rural rotation
Eric has just completed his rural rotation out at Roma.
“I think it was my favorite term out of all the ones I’ve done so far. I was part of the team, not just the medical student in the background, which can sometimes happen at bigger hospitals,” he explains.
“There was just so much variety. I could be on the wards, in the operating theatre, in the emergency department, or in one of the various clinics like cardiology. I think the highlight was assisting in my first emergency caesarian section.”
He recalls another patient who also made a big impression on him. “They came in with a huge 20cm laceration on their forearm after an accident butchering animals on their farm. It was quite a specific injury, one that you probably wouldn’t often see in a bigger metro hospital. I got to put in 23 stitches and it was an amazing learning opportunity,” he says.
Another high point was a day stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
“We flew from Roma to Miles, and then onto Dalby where I spent the day working with the obstetrician team at the hospital. It was such an outstanding experience, and not something I’ll ever forget,” he smiles.
Advice for your rural term and those considering rural clinical years
Eric says that while all med students have to do a rural rotation, there are also a number of other rural opportunities one can contemplate. It might be joining a rural clinical school in the third year like he did, or considering a country placement for your elective term. For any and all these scenarios, Eric has this wisdom to offer.
“While you can do a rural rotation somewhere close like Beaudesert, be brave and pick a more remote rural town. I encourage you to go further out because that’s where you get most of your learning opportunities,” he says.
For those who are a bit reluctant to venture out to the country, especially as it may be far away from friends and family, Eric says it helps to really commit to the placement by immersing yourself in the community.
“What I found really helpful during my Roma placement was avoiding just going home after work and staying in my house. Instead, I’d go get out and explore,” he says.
“I also joined up with other med students and every weekend, we’d go to a different neighbouring town. One highlight was camping at Carnarvon Gorge for a couple of nights. It was spectacular.”
Where to from here for Eric?
While Eric hasn’t firmed up his specialty choice yet, he’s leaning heavily towards general practice.
“I can’t see myself picking a specialty that hones in on one particular aspect of a patient’s health and just fixes the problem without considering the patient holistically,” he says.
“On my GP term, every day was different. I think being able to tackle that variety would be really awesome and rewarding. I also love the continuity of care and following a patient’s health journey all the way through. Plus there’s some great flexibility when it comes to working hours!” he laughs.
As for a rural career, Eric is adamant it’s on the cards.
“As a medical student, it just so happens that every placement I’ve done rurally has been the standout by far. So I can definitely see myself working in the country,” he says.