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We chat to Goondiwindi GP couple Matt and Sue Masel to find out.

Drs Matt and Sue Masel are experts in rural GP training.

They and three other established rural GPs are partners in one of regional South East Queensland’s busiest medical practices—Goondiwindi Medical Centre—where educating GP Registrars is embedded in the business’ operational framework.

The reason?

Matt and Sue and their colleagues are passionate about creating as many opportunities as possible for young doctors to experience medicine and life in the bush.

As former city-slickers themselves, Matt and Sue say if it hadn’t been for their own outback training experiences some 25 years ago they may not have ended up calling Goondiwindi home.

 

Flashback to Sue and Matt’s own rural training experiences

In 1995 Sue was in her second year as a junior doctor working in Brisbane when the Queensland Government medical scholarship scheme she was part of sent her west to fill a 12 month appointment working in Goondiwindi as a Principal House Officer (PHO).

Three months into the role, the hospital’s Medical Superintendent and only other doctor resigned and wasn’t replaced.

“It was a curveball for sure, but at the end of that year I looked back and thought, wow, not only did I survive the experience—I really liked it,” Sue says.

She returned to Brisbane for further specialty training, but a new desire to follow a family medicine pathway—possibly based in a rural community—had taken root.

While Sue set about becoming a GP, her partner Matt wasn’t sure which direction he wanted his medical career to follow.

“I spent three years in the hospital system in Brisbane trying most specialties and while I found I really enjoyed everything, none of them stood out as a clear winner,” Matt says.

“I’d originally been interested in General Practice and eventually that’s what I circled back to—what I’d imagined a doctor was growing up: someone who can help people in all areas.”

By 2001 Sue and Matt, now married, had both taken GP roles in Goondiwindi, joining the town’s four GPs in the practice they would go on to take over and expand.

 

A training environment that allows GP Registrars to learn and grow

At any given time Goondiwindi Medical Centre can have up to six registrars undertaking training placements.

Sue says that over the years the practice has welcomed so many registrars and interns—from all walks of life—the integration of each new recruit into the busy clinic environment is now seamless.

“Every registrar who embarks on a training placement with us undergoes a week of detailed orientation,” she explains.

During this orientation phase the registrar is introduced to every aspect of the business, which means spending time at the front desk with administration staff, shadowing the practice’s nurses as they go about their roles, and meeting with the practice manager in order to gain a deeper understanding of how every role works within the practice’s patient care and business model.

This approach, Sue explains, ensures registrars feel welcomed and gives them confidence to become a contributing member of the practice team.

“Systems and a shared responsibility for all learners across the practice are the key tenets of our approach,” she adds.

“This means all of our established GPs (supervisors) are involved in teaching but no-one is overburdened by doing it all. This allows registrars to benefit from a range of teaching styles and experience a broad mix of interest areas.”

Once a fortnight the ‘Gundy Hub’ registrars (those training in Goondiwindi and surrounding towns) meet up on Zoom with a senior supervisor for a training session, which always starts with the registrars sharing a tip of the week.

“The ‘tip of the week’ is valuable for everyone involved,” Sue says.

“In fact, I don’t think I have ever come away from one of these sessions without learning something new myself—whether it be a clinical tool, or a simple piece of information that holds value for the practice, such as finding out there is a new rheumatologist consulting in nearby Toowoomba with a short patient list.”

 

Matt and Sue’s words of wisdom on rural GP training placements

  1. It’s not a forever commitment.

“In the past a lot of registrars were reluctant to try out rural medicine because there was a perception if you did you had to stay,” Matt says. “That’s changed. We get several registrars every year and perhaps one in 10 will stay as rural practitioners. A lot of junior doctors experience rural medicine for two or three years and then go back to the city, but all of them say their rural training was incredibly valuable and held them in good stead when they went back to urban practice.”

 

  1. The medicine won’t ever be boring.

“You can never tell what will walk through the door next and most of the patients would rather you sort out their problem than send them to a specialist!” Sue says.

“And no matter what the problem is, you have other GPs to discuss it with and over time your knowledge grows and you develop your own style.”

Skills training opportunities also speak for themselves.

“This is a great place to consolidate rural generalist skills like anaesthetics or obstetrics. The local birthing unit is thriving and the hospital is very welcoming for registrars,” Sue says.

“One of our previous registrars married a farmer and opened a solo practice in an even smaller town. I like to think Goondiwindi Medical Centre is a great training ground for getting the confidence to create new opportunities like this.”

 

  1. Rural doctors are great mentors.

Starting out in rural practice can be daunting,” Matt says.

“When I began I had several mentors—local doctors who let me develop my independence in GP Obstetrics, but who were never far away when I needed help. As supervisors we aim to provide that same balance for our registrars.

“Sue and I feel fortunate that through GPTQ are able to mentor not just the registrars in our practice, but the broader group who are training in rural sites across our district.”

Matt adds that becoming an active member of associations like the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland (RDAQ) can open the door to other great mentoring relationships.

I have been helped and inspired by a number of mentors I have met through the RDAQ,” he says.

“The Association brings together like–minded people from all over Queensland and wonderful friendships are forged from this.”

 

  1. The lifestyle is hard to beat.

From the five minute drive to work and being able to pop home for lunch most days, to the feeling of connectedness that comes with living in a small community, Sue says there is much to love about country life. There are so many activities on offer and nothing takes very long to get to,” she says. We have four children and like to go camping and to the beach. The kids roam free, fishing in the river and visiting mates on their bikes. In many ways it is idyllic.”

Delve deeper into the rural GP training experience by downloading one of our Rural training explorer series eBooks. Book #1, Goondiwindi & surrounds is out now.

Download your copy here