JCU Medicine graduate Dr Bryce Nicol took up a rural relieving rotation in Winton in central western Queensland in 2013. Five years later, he became the Director of Medical Services at Winton Hospital at the age of 28.
His senior position was the result of a medical road trip through central west, and southeast Queensland, with training in JCU’s GP Registrar program along the way.
“Having only just finished my years as a registrar, the director’s appointment was an opportunity that would never have come my way if I hadn’t joined the hospital through the JCU GP training program,” he said.
Dr Nicol fell in love with Winton during his first rotation there, when he was bouncing back and forth between the small town and Caboolture hospital, where he was a Resident Medical Officer.
“I had a fantastic experience in Winton,” he said. “There was this lovely town with a beautiful little 16-bed hospital, with wonderful nursing staff. I got to meet the senior doctors in the district. They had an excellent teaching culture and an excellent collegiate culture. It just seemed like the perfect place for me to train as a GP registrar.”
Upon taking on Winton full-time in 2016, Dr Nicol was the only doctor in the town until another JCU GP Trainee joined him in 2018.
“When I first came here as a registrar in 2016, I was frequently seeing people who were critically unwell,” Dr Nicol said. “Now there are two doctors in town, there are appointments for people to receive ongoing care for chronic conditions. We have the ability to better manage people’s chronic diseases. That’s one of the many things that general practice in remote areas is really good at.”
Unfortunately, even with the additional expertise in the town, many residents postpone a doctor’s visit until a health issue has escalated. With the challenges facing rural Australia, health issues often take a backseat to other concerns.
“There is this great myth of rural Australia; all these tough men and tough women out here,” he said. “And that’s true to an extent. But due to injuries, the ageing workforce, troubles with the price of cattle and wool, and the drought, we actually have these very strong people who have – through years of adversity – been made into very frail people, who are more unwell than people in cities.”
These issues, coupled with the tyranny of distance from the nearest major hospital in Brisbane, means Dr Nicol has become a truly multitalented doctor during his time in Winton.
“There’s the challenge of arranging fly outs, as well as arranging and supervising specialist care,” Dr Nicol said. “My day may start with 30 patients booked in a clinic, but then a person comes in with cardiac arrest and none of my patients will get seen that day, because I’ll be in the hospital all day taking care of this patient, waiting for the Royal Flying Doctor Service to arrive.”
Although he has a background in emergency medicine, Dr Nicol has come to love building a rapport with patients he’ll frequently see about town.
“As one of only two doctors in town, you become very important to both patients and their families. It’s a very privileged position,” he said.
“My patients are the people who make my coffee and the people who serve me beer,” he said. “They’re the people I celebrate with at the races and the people I commiserate with – often also at the races! It’s a wonderful environment.”
Even as one of two doctors in the town, Dr Nicol has plenty of time for his own hobbies, and has a tight-knit social group within the hospital.
“I have an enjoyable social life in town with the medical students and the nurses. We’re a very tight-knit group. There are so many social opportunities and so much town spirit.”
He is very content with his decision to combine emergency medicine with GP training in a remote area.
“You get more challenging clinical situations, with more appreciative patients, with more supportive colleagues, in a remote area of Australia that very few people are fortunate enough to visit,” he said.