College of Medicine and Dentistry JCU growing Mackay region health workforce

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JCU growing Mackay region health workforce

Fri, 3 Dec 2021
Categories: Staff, Students, Alumni.

Dr Elissa Hatherly Dr Elissa Hatherly

Dr Elissa Hatherly is focused on building the region’s health workforce as the new Head of James Cook University’s Mackay Clinical School.

Dr Hatherly, a general practitioner, brings to the role 20 years of experience, including work with BreastScreen Queensland and Mackay Base Hospital’s Family Planning Clinic. She is also a strong proponent of the Mackay region.

“I love Mackay. I arrived here as a medical intern and have never left,” Dr Hatherly said.

“The opportunity to help grow our own medical workforce is really appealing because if we can get our local young people involved in health, whether it's medicine or pharmacy or something else, they’ll hopefully stay in the region and help to care for our community.

“The whole district, from the hinterland to the Whitsundays, needs more health professionals to support our community because we don't have the access to health care that our counterparts in the South-East corner have.

“We shouldn't be experiencing long wait times to see GPs or specialists, and certainly our First Nations peoples need more health care than our community is currently able to offer them.

Mackay is getting bigger, but it's getting sicker, so providing that local education will definitely help to shore up our medical workforce moving forward.”

Dr Hatherly takes over the role from long-serving fellow Mackay GP Dr Mick Wohlfahrt.

“Dr Wohlfahrt’s experience can't be matched and it will be hard to live up to,” Dr Hatherly said. “He is just a spectacular human being all round and he's going to be missed.”

Dean of JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry, Professor Sarah Larkins, welcomed Dr Hatherly to the role and paid tribute to Dr Wohlfahrt’s ‘humble, calm, yet incredibly competent and compassionate leadership’ of Mackay Clinical School for the past nine years.

JCU Mackay is one of the university's clinical training sites for the College of Medicine and Dentistry with two campus locations providing students with extensive hands-on learning and clinical experience at both the Mater and Mackay Base Hospitals.

Professor Larkins said JCU had extended its pharmacy degree to Mackay-based students in 2021, which was proving a great success.

“We look forward to increasing our efforts to train pharmacists and doctors for the Mackay region, together with Mackay HHS, the NQ Primary Health Network and our community partners,” she said.

“We know that our approach of ‘from, in, with and for’ rural and regional communities delivers outcomes in terms of doctors for NQ.”

JCU is the only university delivering both undergraduate medical training and General Practice training. This integrated training model is being used to develop a skilled, fit-for-purpose health workforce to address the shortage of doctors in regional, rural, and remote communities.

Dr Hatherly is on the board of the Mackay Hospital and Health Service and Northern Australian Primary Health Ltd. She has previously coordinated rural placements in the Mackay region for fourth year JCU Medicine students and supervised GP registrars doing their extended skills training at the hospital’s weekly Family Planning Clinic.

“In Mackay, we have fifth- and sixth-year medical students full time,” she said. “The hope is to expand to offer years one, two and three. I'll be working with the Dean towards getting those early medical years up and running here in Mackay. We also have the fourth-year medical students here on placement.  We offered first-year JCU Pharmacy from this year, and that will be a program that we continue to expand. We also have dentistry students placed here and in Proserpine.”

She said medical students on placement experienced general practice in towns like Moranbah, Collinsville, Bowen, Proserpine and Sarina.

“Depending on what's available in that location, they might spend time with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Service or with the local hospital and hopefully integrate into the local community as well,” she said.

“It's not just about getting medical experience, it's about getting a good feel for what life is like as a rural or regional practitioner. The students love being in the small centres because they have the opportunity to be hands on.

“Often the supervisors will quickly ascertain the competence of the student and then try to give them a little bit of confidence. They might ask them to clerk the patient who first arrives at the hospital and then go and present to the doctor. That might be the first experience the students have that kind of independent practice when they're still being closely supervised. It’s a great opportunity to practise their new history-taking and clinical examination skills”

Dr Hatherly says working with JCU medical students keeps her on her toes professionally and is personally rewarding.

“Working with students encourages you to be as up to date as you can be in your own clinical skills and experience,” she said. “You need to be sure that the information that you have is the latest and greatest. I really like that mentoring and pastoral care aspect, too. Everyone going into medicine is a little bit daunted at the prospect of what they have to learn and what they have to do. To give them that little bit of encouragement if they need it and to see them develop in that way is really rewarding for me personally.”

She said Mackay Hospital was just the right size for training: “It's not so big that you get lost and you feel like you're a stranger within the hospital community. You have the opportunity to get to know everybody and to get to know the staff without it being so small that you miss out on some of those sub-specialty experiences.”

“You’re able to put in a catheter and put in a chest drain and do all those sorts of things that medical students in big metropolitan hospitals would have to wait in line to do. They'll have registrars and PHOs (Principal House Officers) who are putting up their hand to do those sorts of procedures, whereas here it can be the junior doctors, the interns and sometimes even the students who are supported through some of those procedures the students traditionally find really exciting.”

“JCU has a lovely big building on the hospital grounds and we have student accommodation that's adjacent. It makes it easy for the students to float in and out. The tutorial rooms can be used by the hospital staff as well, so it helps to embed that collegiate education environment.”

Dr Hatherly encourages students to explore and get involved in their local communities while on placement.

“Those are the sorts of things that make rural and regional practice really appealing,” she says.