(07) 3552 8100

They say ‘never forget your roots’ but in Dr Emma Leu-Marshall’s case, she never wanted to.

Raised on a cattle farm on the outskirts of Kingaroy, Emma’s dream for her career in medicine always included a return to her home town to open a country general practice.

In 2017 that dream became reality. Fresh off a six-and-a-half year stint as a Royal Flying Doctor in Western Queensland, Emma joined forces with Dr Sam Stevens to establish Taabinga Family Medical Practice in the heart of Kingaroy.

‘Taabinga’ pays homage to Emma’s treasured roots; a nod to Taabinga Homestead where she grew up and one of Queensland’s oldest (it was settled in the 1840s) continuously occupied homesteads. Her parents still live on the family property, providing tours and accommodation to tourists while continuing to operate the long established cattle farming side of the business. When Emma returned to Kingaroy to open her practice, she and her young family (husband Ben and son Alex) moved on to a separate section of the property in order to assist with running it.

“I love life here and always knew I’d come back, but to be living at Taabinga is extra special,” Emma says. “In recent years health issues have curtailed my parents’ ability to manage the business alone, so it is perfect for Ben and I to be able to live here on the farm and support them in the business.”

Back in town Emma has created what she describes as a true ‘family’ practice for local patients. “We work hard to actively promote wellness among our patient-base and to provide a relaxed and friendly environment where patients feel safe and well cared for,” she says. “Our team of doctors, nurses, and administrative staff is a lot like a close-knit family. Together we strive to make sure our patients receive wholistic care.”

Why Emma loves rural medicine

 

“It’s connection,” she says simply.

“My years out in Charleville with the RFDS taught me this is what it is all about.” Emma describes how the flying doctor job saw her working in a small team to service more than 600,000 square kilometres of southwest Queensland—an area almost the size of the United Kingdom.

From delivering remote medical consultations and creating popup primary health care clinics, to undertaking high-risk aeromedical retrievals, she says making sure a farmer living hundreds of kilometres from his/her nearest neighbour didn’t feel cut off from the world was important in more ways than one.

“There’s gravity in what you are doing on every level,” Emma says. “Sometimes just a call to a patient’s loved one to let them know that their wife or child has arrived at Toowoomba Hospital safely can mean the world,” she explains.

Emma completed her GP training while working with the RFDS and undertook Advanced Skills Training in Anaesthetics to Fellow as a Rural Generalist in 2011. She counts the varied clinical work she managed while working in the air, as well as in the ward setting at Charleville Hospital, as perfect training for the multi-dimensional medical life she now leads in Kingaroy.

Along with her role as practice principal at Taabinga Family Practice she is a Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) at Kingaroy Hospital, where she provides Anaesthetics and Emergency Medicine care.

“I really enjoy managing a mix of primary care and hospital medicine,” Emma says. “Kingaroy is a busy centre with a busy hospital, serviced entirely by Rural Generalists like me—it is a tight knit medical community and I’m so glad to be a part of it.”

An inside look at GP training with Taabinga

 

Taabinga Family Practice is part of the GPTQ training network and welcomes GP Registrars for first, second and third year training placements. Here Emma offers an inside look at GP training with Taabinga.

Orientation

 

Adequate orientation is a must for GP Registrars who undertake a training placement with the Taabinga Family Practice team, Emma says.

This involves spending time with Practice Manager Kylie Almond to learn about both the business and logistics sides of how the practice runs, along with some time spent getting to know the reception team and observing how they manage consultation scheduling and patient follow-up. “Learning the computer system and Medicare billing is part of our orientation process as well,” Emma adds.

“Often it can be these logistical elements of General Practice that seem most daunting to a registrar coming in off the back of a stint of hospital-based training.”

Hands-on learning

 

The pace and dynamic of a busy rural medical practice takes some time to adjust to and Emma says that ‘supported, hands-on learning’ is therefore the focus when it comes to registrars and the early weeks of their practice placement.

“General Practice is very different to the medicine junior doctors experience while training in the emergency department of a major hospital,” Emma explains. “You need to learn to sit with a lot more uncertainty when blood test results aren’t instantly available and asking a patient to travel or wait to see various specialists certainly develops your clinical skills,” she says. “We are mindful that this is a steep learning curve for registrars, so we make sure they get hands-on experience with strong supports in place.”

New registrars spend a number of sessions consulting alongside GP Supervisors Emma and Sam, whilst being given autonomy to direct consultations and manage patient care plans. Regular clinical team meetings provide an opportunity for registrars to put forward ideas and suggestions and Emma is quick to point out that questions are encouraged.

“We really like questions here—if you aren’t sure about something, please ask,” she says. “I have an open door policy and welcome registrars popping in to get my thoughts on an issue. Conversely, I will regularly seek out the opinion of our registrars on particular cases and management options. We can always learn from each other.”

Exploring interest areas

 

A training placement is an opportunity to explore special interest areas and begin to get a feel for the GP you want to be, according to Emma.

“For this reason we make extra effort to give our registrars opportunities to see patients in their areas of interest while also encouraging them to gain experience across the range of disciplines, from men’s and women’s health, through to paediatric primary care, skin medicine, mental health and more.”

Taabinga Family Practice has a strong preventative health focus, which sees it roll-out monthly ‘wellness’ themes which are designed to engage and educate patients. One month’s theme might be ‘Bone density for over 70s’. The practice will provide patients 70 years and over with key information about the importance of good bone density and prompt them to have their density levels tested.

“Registrars are encouraged to incorporate this into their routine appointments—it is a trigger for all of us to make sure preventative health is included in our day-to-day practice,” Emma explains.

Flexibility

 

Emma says providing training flexibility for GP Registrars is also important to Taabinga Family Practice.

“While most of our registrars work full-time with us, we are open to accommodating people’s needs and can offer part-time training appointments in some cases,” she says. “Registrars who train with us have the option of working solely in the practice or, if they have an advanced skill, they can opt for a joint appointment with us and Kingaroy Hospital.”

Emma’s top tip

 

“My tip for registrars coming into a rural setting is to be curious; ask people about themselves and be a good listener. Out here people are open and they are very ready to welcome new people into the fabric of the community if they are willing to show interest in it.”