Goondiwindi-based GP and Rural Supervisor Liaison Officer, Dr Sue Masel spent her formative years in and out of hospitals after studying at The University of Queensland.
Sue enjoyed every hospital term she completed and was unable to decide on one specialty area to focus on. “I really liked the family medicine aspect of General Practice,” she says. Sue undertook a year of anaesthetics and obstetrics and gynaecology, and enjoyed both. “I really wanted to be a general practitioner, however,” she says.
In her second year post-internship, her future career, and indeed, life, would be determined by a single event. “It was a year of Queensland Government scholarship payback. They sent me to Goondiwindi and I spent a year in 1995 being one of two doctors at Goondiwindi Hospital.”
With one doctor leaving and not replaced, for the rest of that year, Sue and one other second-year graduate ran Goondiwindi Hospital.
Sense of community
“At the end of that year, I looked back and thought, wow, not only did I survive, I really liked it,” she says. Going back to Brisbane for further training, Sue waited for her partner to decide what he wanted to do. “If he was going to specialise, it would all be for naught,” she says. As a medical student, her husband, Matt, also completed a term at Goondiwindi and he too chose General Practice as his specialty. “It all worked out beautifully.”
Sue and her family have been in Goondiwindi now for 16 years. “We’ll be walking down the footpath and every person or every second person will greet me by name. My friends from Brisbane can’t get their head around that!” Sue says there is much to appreciate. “I like the sense of community, I like the breadth of the medicine; you never know what’s going to walk through the door. I like the lack of commuting time; everything is so close,” she says.
Feeling the appreciation as a rural GP
The feeling is also mutual, the town appreciating young, experienced doctors such as Sue and Matt joining them. “When I came to Goondiwindi, there were three or four quite senior GPs in the practice and there was a massive age gap to Matt and me,” says Sue. “We were 30 and the next youngest long-term GP was 50.”
Wanting to get their training working well and attract quality GP registrars who preferred to live rurally, the practice asked Sue and Matt to help them bridge the gap for the new graduates who were coming through. “We were new blood and young GPs, and they wanted to make the options attractive for GP registrars,” says Sue. “As soon as I was eligible and had enough practice experience, I applied and became a GP supervisor.” Sue also became the GP registrar liaison for her practice, working on an orientation manual to assist registrars to understand their role, the town and the support available.
Providing guidance as a GP supervisor
“We recognise that the needs of rural GPs differ from those in metro areas, and we need to provide that support,” says Sue. “Registrars with previous rural experience go into it with their eyes open and understand the community aspect to it,” she adds. “Others are doing it because they thought they would get good training rurally. Between that and a high community expectation that you will handle just about anything, they can feel a little displaced. It can be quite daunting for a registrar.”
However, there are plenty of benefits to being rural, says Sue. “Being rural is the quintessential family medicine. No one expects you to be a referral machine,” she says. “You are really involved in essential health advocacy with the patient. It’s the gold standard for family medicine, and if that attracts you, then you should live rurally.”
“I think new registrars and medical students owe it to themselves to have a rural experience somewhere in their training or pre-vocational years,” adds Sue. “It opens your eyes to the possibilities of a rural career.”
For her own part, Sue enjoys teaching emergency medicine topics, data management, women’s health and skin cancer medicine. She also aims to remove barriers for rural registrars from the start. “We are happy to hear from our registrars at any time. We don’t want to hear that they have been struggling,” she says. “We will pick up the phone and answer their call, provide advice or come out and help. We really want to hear from them.”
Enjoying country life
With four children, Sue also loves raising her family in the country. “There are so many activities on offer and nothing takes very long to get to,” she says. “We like to go camping and to the beach. The kids roam free, fishing in the river and visiting mates on their bikes. It’s really quite liberating, having a country childhood and being able to raise the family in that way.”