From the beginning of his degree, Matthew was eager to make the most of the many and varied rural placements JCU had to offer.
In second year, he elected to do two rural placements instead of one.
“That was how keen I was on it,” he says.
His first experience was four weeks in the mining town of Blackwater in Central Queensland, and then later in the year he received JCU’s Lynn Kratcha Memorial Rural Bursary and travelled to a small town in North Dakota in the US.
In his fourth year, he spent six weeks in Bowen and in his fifth year he had three months out in Mount Isa.
In his final year, Matthew’s love for rural medicine was now firmly embedded, but he wanted to affirm that the rural path was the right road to travel.
“It was interesting in Year Five – I had a lot more exposure to those more specialised areas of medicine like paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology and surgery.
“It made me think. Do I want to want to go down the Rural Generalist pathway, where I am a GP and then develop an advanced skill in one of these areas, or do I want to become a specialist in one of those areas rather than a GP?
“I thought the best way to find out was do a really long placement in a rural area and properly experience what it is like to be a member of a rural medical team. So, I decided to do the 35-week placement in Longreach.”
Matthew is now sure he made the right choice.
“I have come away from the placement thinking Rural Generalism is definitely what I want to do.
“I remember starting one day by assisting with an elective caesarean, then I saw our inpatients on the ward round, and later saw patients in ED and inserted cannulas in the medical imaging department. One of my patients that day was a child, who I had seen a couple of times previously, and I enjoyed hearing about his progress and that of his family since our last consultation.
“So it was literally covering every domain of medicine in a single day. And I thought, ‘Wow! What an incredible job’ – we get to do everything in a single day.”
And he isn’t the only Riggs sibling hoping for a rural career in medicine.
His sister, Catherine, is in her final years at JCU and has had placements in Sarina, Innisfail and Bowen. Because of her brother’s positive experiences, she has also chosen to do her ED elective in Longreach.
Matthew is now on the Rural Generalist Pathway and completing his intern year at The Townsville Hospital (2020).
Looking to the future, Matthew is flexible about where his rural career takes him.
“Because we have travelled around a lot, I would be comfortable anywhere. Queensland is home, though, so it will be somewhere here. Really, it is wherever life takes me. Longreach was an excellent experience and I would definitely consider going back there again.”