College of Medicine and Dentistry News & Stories Fast track to country doctor career

Fast track to country doctor career

Fri, 2 Nov 2018
Dr Tom Currie in Mt Isa

JCU’s unique medical experience is fast-tracking Tom Currie’s ability to achieve his ambition to work as a Rural Generalist in a country town.

"I chose to study medicine at JCU, because it has the best reputation for producing work-ready graduates, and it has a strong focus on rural and remote health, which is the primary reason why I wanted to study medicine. I come from a small country town in New South Wales and wanted a career that would enable me to live and work in the country.

In addition, JCU has an undergraduate program. As a high school student, I had a very firm idea in my mind of what I wanted to do with my life. I applied to JCU, because I wanted to go to medical school straight out of high school.

I really didn't see the value in studying an undergraduate degree that was unrelated to what I wanted to do and then apply to medicine as a postgraduate student, which is what many of the larger universities are shifting to these days.

What also sets JCU apart from a lot of other medical schools is that it has multiple rural placement experiences spread across the six years. It enables you to obtain all of your training, from start to finish, outside major metropolitan areas.

During my six-year course (2012-2017), I had a series of fantastic placements across outback Queensland, Far North Queensland, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria. This puts you in the best position to do your internship in a regional or rural centre.

I'm currently working as an intern in Mount Isa. I first came here for a four-week placement as a second-year medical student, had a fantastic experience and opted to go back in fifth year for a 12-week placement. That pretty much sealed the deal for me to want to be an intern here.

At that time, Mount Isa was hosting its’ first-ever batch of five interns and they were having such a great time. They were getting a lot of hands-on experience, working in small teams, closely with their consultants. Because everyone knows one another, the hospital in Mount Isa has a fantastic culture.

I am now on the path to become a Rural Generalist through the QRGP (Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway).

The JCU undergraduate course puts you in the best position to apply for the pathway – a continuation of the pipeline, so to speak. You apply as a final year medical student. They take you on board as an intern and support you all the way through to Fellowship, with either ACRRM (Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine) or RACGP (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners).

At the moment, I am doing 10 weeks of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. There are between 5 and 10-week terms on core rotations in Medicine, Surgery, Paediatrics, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, and Emergency. That gives us a broad foundation on which to develop our skills for rural practice.

What sets a Rural Generalist apart from your run-of-the-mill GP is that you’re required to undertake a minimum one year of Advanced Skill Training. I want to do Obstetrics and Gynaecology. I’ve been interested in it ever since I did my rotation in medical school, and it fits well with the rural and remote setting. Mothers shouldn't have to leave home to give birth to their babies.

If you look at it from the bigger picture, I believe there’s an increased sense of connection with your home town if you can say that you were born there. The long-term benefit this has on the sustainability of smaller communities is often overlooked, as birthing facilities are centralised across Australia.

In postgraduate year five, I like the idea of moving to Longreach. I went there as a student and I think it hosts some of the best rural doctors I’ve come across. By that stage, I will be a GP registrar and I want to learn from the best. It's isolated, but well-resourced and a focal point for Rural Generalism in Australia.

But I believe the real value in placement is getting involved in the community.

It's important to have a good clinical experience, but research shows that this aspect of your placement has little impact on whether or not you will return there to work. What does carry a lot of weight is the social experience and I would encourage anyone living in rural areas to embrace visiting health students and show them a good time. That’s what will bring them back, much more so than a day spent studying.

I don’t know exactly where I’ll be in 10 years’ time, but definitely within a small country town somewhere. It could be in Longreach. It could be in Mount Isa. I really love the idea of working some day in the Kimberleys, in northern WA, or on the west coast of Tasmania, or maybe back home in New South Wales, in the country town where I grew up.

Australia doesn't have a shortage of doctors, but it does have a maldistribution of where they are located. I think JCU’s vision to take kids from the country, train them in the country, and then get them back to the country as soon as they can after they graduate, is the best way to tackle that workforce maldistribution.

I would recommend the JCU experience hands down. If you want to be a rural doctor, the University definitely puts you in the best position to take full advantage of all the training opportunities that you could possibly obtain to get there."

- Dr Tom Currie, JCU Medicine Graduate and Intern at Mount Isa Hospital