Lure of rural medicine
Kane Langdon excelled as a student doctor in the outback town of Blackall in the final year of his JCU Medicine degree. Jumping headlong into the Central West’s busy winter social season endeared him to a friendly community on his 10-week placement, with outreach to Tambo.
Working in the Emergency Department (ED) at Blackall Hospital, Kane impressed Dr Allison Graham, who praised his “exceptional performance spanning well beyond his mandated clinical attachment”. Allison, a general practitioner and 2008 graduate of JCU, is a Brisbane-based rural locum who has been helping to fill health workforce need in Blackall since June. “The community is very welcoming and the hospital is a blend of clinical and non-clinical,” Dr Graham says. “Even though it’s 1000 kilometres from my home, it very much feels like home to me. I really like rural medicine – there’s a lot more acute management and collaboration than in metropolitan general practice.”
Allison wrote to JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry: “Never before have I encountered a student with as much enthusiasm, drive and clinical knowledge and I can honestly say these sentiments are echoed throughout our facility spanning nursing, medical and operational staff streams. Kane has immersed himself in community life, participating in sporting events, community education and health promotion.”
“He has taken on a mentor role teaching two second-year students who were on placement in Blackall at the same time. He has been a valuable team player supporting our second-year Principal House Officer by participating in ward rounds and completing necessary documentation ahead of time, pre-empting the clinical duties that may arise from ward rounds and Emergency Department attendances. He demonstrates an understanding and eagerness far beyond his years and should be commended for his extraordinary efforts.”
We asked Kane to tell us more about the Blackall placement experience, his time at JCU and his plans after graduation:
I grew up in Gladstone in Central Queensland. In high school, I worked casually as a pharmacy assistant and remember appreciating the unique mix of compassion and technical knowledge required for effective care in the health field. Academically, I enjoyed physiology and pharmacology as subjects and wanted to find a career where I could learn continuously.
I chose JCU because I appreciated the focus on rural and regional health. They give us a good grasp of the theoretical and the practical. When we do our rural placements in years two, four and six, we get challenged and pushed in the practical skills of medicine. My second-year placement was four weeks in Hughenden. In fourth year, I went to Sarina for six weeks. After third year, I took a year off to do some research for a Bachelor of Medical Science on proteins that are excreted or secreted from parasitic worms in the treatment of an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis. I was interested in the hypothesis that our current standards of hygiene and changes in microbial and other diversities in our body have caused us to have more inflammatory diseases.
Willing to teach
My rural placements have been one of the biggest influences on my perspectives as a medical student. Especially at the smaller sites, they’re a unique opportunity to learn directly from practising medical professionals who are often exceptionally good at what they do. It has been during these placements that I have made the largest improvements in terms of my practical skills as a student doctor.
I chose to go to the Central West because I had experienced the people out there as very welcoming. The presentations that came into the ED at Blackall were varied and interesting, so not only was it good on the social and community side, there was some really interesting medicine as well. On the first day, our placement supervisor, Dr Kieran Le Plastrier, basically said, you’re going to be supervised for this placement but our expectation, especially by the end, is you'll be a junior intern. It was my job to be in the ED with the PHO (Principal House Officer) and do what you'd expect a junior intern to do. We’d see patients, work them up, perform the investigations, interpret the investigations, formulate a management plan, get any input the supervisor wanted to make, and then put the management plan into action.
Working alongside Dr Graham was fantastic. Her being a JCU grad meant we had a bit of common ground, and we approach things the same way. She showed us how to extend what we'd been taught at JCU. I knew from previous students that undertaking a placement in the Central West meant that everyone would be friendly. However, I was surprised by how quickly I was made to feel like part of the community itself with no thought given to the relative brevity of my placement. Clinically, I was impressed by the skill of the doctors and nurses at the hospital and how willing they were to teach students. The staff at Blackall Hospital welcomed me readily and openly and we quickly developed a close working and personal relationship. My memories from Blackall will stay with me for the rest of my career.
A welcoming winter
Winter seems to be the social season for the Central West so each weekend we had something on. We went to a couple of rugby league games that the Blackall Magpies played, including the grand final in Ilfracombe where they lost on the final hooter, which was a bit disappointing. The Better in Blackall Festival was on while I was there in August. Dr Graham and Drew, the son of one of the hospital staff, and I entered the triathlon as a team. I did the Mad Mudder obstacle course and the billycart races on the main street, and we went to the Rooftop Express horse show and the races in Longreach, Ilfracombe and Blackall. Throughout the placement I worked at a stall in the Blackall saleyards doing free blood pressure and blood sugar checks to identify undiagnosed chronic disease and promote attendance to a general practitioner. That was a great way to get involved in the community.
My partner, Celene Cuzzubbo, is a JCU Pharmacy graduate and works at Calanna Pharmacy in Cairns. Celene visited me in Blackall for a week during my placement and we did some exploring of the area. We visited the Lake Dunn Sculpture Trail, a 200km art trail along the triangle of roads between Aramac, Lake Dunn and Jericho. We explored Blackall, Muttaburra, Aramac (as I have family from there), Tambo (where we got a Tambo Teddy) and Barcaldine.
The more you put in, the more you get back
My internship next year is at the Cairns Base Hospital. I plan to use the rotations to get a comprehensive idea of what it is that I most enjoy. I really enjoy working in regional and rural sites and hope to continue this throughout my career. I’m happy Cairns offers a number of options for rural placements for junior doctors.
My advice for JCU Medicine students? It's a marathon. Take your time, enjoy it. It's a really good degree and it does turn you into an excellent doctor. The more you put in, the exponentially more you get back, in the work and in the community as well. I’ll look back with fondness on my time studying medicine at JCU. During the first couple of years, it seemed graduation and the start of full-time work were a long way away, but the years passed by blindingly fast. I’ll miss the joys and challenges of medical student life when I graduate.
Want to know more about the unique experiences available through JCU's placement opportunities? Read about graduating JCU Medicine student Georgia Bulley's placement on Thursday Island, a move she's called, "The best decision I've ever made".