All roads lead to home

Wed, 28 Mar 2018
Dr Ben Parkinson

Getting a taste for the tropics during his specialist training was enough to convince orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ben Parkinson to settle in Far North Queensland.

In fact, it was a 12-month placement in Cairns at the start of his specialist training that solidified Dr Parkinson’s decision to pursue a career in medicine in regional Queensland.

“I actually asked to come here (Cairns) for one of my placements as I had an idea that I might want to settle here when I finished,” Dr Parkinson said, knowing it was a viable option as part of his specialist training with the Royal Australian College of Surgeons.

Having studied medicine at James Cook University in Townsville and Mackay, and grown up in Longreach in Central West Queensland, returning to his regional roots was always at the forefront of his mind.

“If you grow up in a country area you know that life in a regional town can be quite enjoyable” Dr Parkinson reflects.

While the JCU alumnus did complete the remaining three years of his specialist training at hospitals on the Gold Coast, in Brisbane and in the US, backed up by an extra 18 months of voluntary training in the UK and Europe, his advice for prospective trainees is to take every opportunity for placements in regional Queensland.

“The big advantages of doing your training regionally is you’ll get broader experience, you’ll get more opportunity to do things, and you'll be expected to be more independent, which is a good thing,” he explains.

“While there are certain parts of your training that you need to be in big cities for, there’s certainly a lot of experience that can be acquired in regional places. If there is a choice, you’re not going to miss anything by being in a regional place; in fact you probably will gain more out of it,” he said.

“In the last decade the reputation of the Cairns Hospital orthopaedic department has grown and we have many more registrars wanting to come here and train than we have jobs available.”

Now firmly entrenched in his role as one of 10 orthopaedic surgeons at Cairns Hospital, the father of two has built a niche practice in knee, hip and trauma surgery, and created an enviable lifestyle for his young family.

“In medicine, there are career paths that are relatively family friendly during the training phase, and then there's career paths that unfortunately just take a lot of your time and effort,” he reflects.

After considering becoming a GP, then a cardiologist during his undergraduate studies, Dr Parkinson took a strong liking to orthopaedics following a compulsory term and realised he had found his calling.

So what is his number one tip for prospective students looking to find their niche and pursue a fellowship?

“Make sure you really enjoy your chosen career path, because if you don't the sacrifices you and your family will need to make won’t be worth it.

“My advice is to sit down and look at what you need to do for your chosen career path and start mapping it out.”

As for the quality of work available in regional centres, the outdoor adventurist said that a wide variety of orthopaedic cases makes Cairns a prime training ground for those looking to join his profession.

“While the majority of patients present with degenerate issues such as arthritis or sporting injuries, Cairns has a disproportionally high amount of trauma for the population because people come up here on adventure holidays, they hire motorbikes and ride up the Cape, and unfortunately some become injured,” he shares.

While he admits that the demands of his chosen career are often intense, Dr Parkinson has found that creating a work/life balance is a much easier proposition in regional Queensland.

“You have to try and balance your life, which is half the reason we live here because I get to ride my mountain bike most weekends and I have a life outside of medicine with my family,” he said.

“That's one of the many joys of living in Cairns, everything's within 15 minutes so you’re not wasting time commuting like you would in a big city.”

Unless of course you choose to ride your bike to work, which may take a little longer but is certainly a rather enviable and scenic choice for Cairns locals like Dr Parkinson.