Longreach, Warwick, Inglewood, Mt Isa and Chinchilla.
Five different rural Queensland towns and Elizabeth Prictor has spent time in all of them, learning how to practice rural medicine.
Now as a newly minted ACRRM Fellow (Elizabeth was awarded her Fellowship in May 2020), she shares with us some of the surprises, challenges and triumphs of her rural GP training.
The prospect of being sent to a little outback town for training remains a scary unknown for many Registrars, especially if city life is all they’ve ever known.
Exactly how small will this town be? When I’m not working, what am I going to do there?
These are common concerns and ones Elizabeth says even she had way back when she was a medical student and her first rural training experience was on the horizon.
Today she knows better.
“It’s basically a myth that you will be bored in a rural town and that you won’t be able to access what you’re used to in terms of shopping and entertainment,” she says.
“There is so much to get involved in when you arrive in these communities,” she explains.
“From book clubs and sporting teams, to movie nights and craft groups. There are heaps of social and sporting opportunities that help you connect with people. You just have to put yourself out there.”
As for shopping, Elizabeth points out that it has never been easier, “now everything you could ever want is available online”.
“I think these things that were hurdles in the past might have made people feel isolated in a small community, but they really don’t exist anymore,” she says.
Study support is another unknown that can have Registrars nervous about their rural placements, but they needn’t be, explains Elizabeth.
“I think there is a worry that once you get sent off to your rural placement you will be left to your own devices to keep up your study for the ACRRM exam, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she says.
“GPTQ has a really supportive exam preparation program that you can do from anywhere. There is a Facebook group and online modules to make sure you stay right on track and you can talk to other Registrars and help each other with the course work,” she explains.
“You’re not alone. In my experience I found that whatever support I needed, GPTQ and my fellow Registrars were there to provide it.”
Rural general practice does present unique circumstances — and challenges — but, according to Elizabeth, working out how to navigate these is where the most valuable lessons are learned.
“I think one of my biggest lessons has been learning to become a good problem solver,” she says.
“When you are practising in a rural setting it’s not just treating each case as it presents, you need to be thinking about every patient in the context of the town you are in and what their treatment pathway can look like,” she explains.
“Travel is a big thing in these settings, whether that be how far someone will need to travel to access specialist services or whether it’s actually going to be an issue getting them to go for treatment out of town — a lot of rural people aren’t willing to leave home and they’ll be happier for you to do what you can for them locally.”
“Every case is an exercise in problem-solving to achieve the best outcomes possible for your patient.”
Elizabeth says another big lesson for her was learning to trust that help is always available.
“I feel as though I really learned this when I was doing my hospital work in Chinchilla,” she explains.
“I was the only doctor at the hospital and that was initially pretty confronting. It took me a while to realise that everything did not rest on my shoulders and when I needed help all I had to do was ask.
“Help is always available at the end of a phone line,” she says.
“Doctors that stay rural are definitely committed to their patients and to having other doctors stay in the town so there is always someone close by to call on for support.
“Don’t be reluctant to ask for it.”
The adage ‘attitude is everything’ is something Elizabeth says resonates strongly with her.
Reflecting on her rural GP training, she explains: “There will be challenges, but try to come up with solutions rather than letting them overwhelm you.”
“In a social sense, that might mean you don’t take the easy route and leave town each weekend to travel home,” she says.
“Make yourself a part of the community by getting yourself involved in activities and clubs. Get out and meet people. It’s so rewarding when you do.”
Professionally, Elizabeth says its about embracing the unique nature of rural medicine.
“Find your confidence and be a problem solver for your patients. I know from first-hand experience just how much rural patients appreciate the care they receive.”