Dr Annabelle Faint’s one regret about her final-year medical placement in Longreach is that she didn’t spend the whole year there.
Delivering a baby on her birthday and working for a week at a pop-up COVID clinic during Birdsville’s Big Red Bash were two of many highlights of Annabelle’s five-month Integrated Rural Placement.
“Longreach was so good because of the people and the doctors there,” she says. “Being in a small community, you really felt that you were part of a team. I wish in hindsight I had spent the whole year in Longreach. I really loved Longreach, and I would definitely see myself going back there.”
Annabelle says her rural experiences as a student doctor have helped her grow as a person and given her a well-rounded set of practical skills. “I think that at JCU you’re shaped as a doctor just purely based on the experiences we’re given,” she says. “The more you go rural, the more opportunities you have to step out of your comfort zone.”
“I was quite nervous when I went to Julia Creek in second year by myself when it wasn't any of my preferences. But then you sort of learn to just force your friendship upon people – everyone in rural communities really likes that, I've learned. It gets you out of your shell both in the placement sense as a student doctor, as well as socially. It helped me become more confident.”
Annabelle, who is from Buderim, grew up in Mitchell in south-western Queensland, where her father, Roger, worked as a rural doctor. The David Horn Memorial Gala Dinner at the annual Rural Doctors Association of Queensland Conference honours her maternal grandfather, who became a valued connection between rural GPs in his role with medical equipment company Andar Medical Services.
Longreach to Birdsville
From practising cannulation and taking bloods on a co-worker volunteer, to seeing a baby’s life saved in a medical crisis, Annabelle’s clinical experiences in Julia Creek, Mackay, Thursday Island, Sunshine Coast, Longreach, Brisbane and Townsville have equipped her well.
“I also got to go to Birdsville for a week with the COVID team,” she says. “Queensland Health paid for me and one of the nurses to take a tiny little private plane that fitted three people. We flew for two hours from Longreach to Birdsville, which was gorgeous, and stayed there for a week at the Big Red Bash doing all of the COVID swabbing.”
The extended placement in Longreach was a diverse learning experience: “In the mornings, all the doctors would do handover, and then we’d do the ward round and then ED (Emergency Department) in the afternoon. Every second week, the visiting obgyn would come from Brisbane. We’d have visiting paediatric, orthopaedic and general surgeons. They normally don't bring a registrar with them so it was really cool to be first assist in lots of the surgeries instead of being shuffled to the back.”
“They might call us after hours to ask if we were happy to come in and help with caesareans, which was really good experience as well. I got to see a wide range of everything from a cough and cold in the ED to a patient with pancreatitis who was flown out immediately with the RFDS.”
This year, Annabelle is interning at Gold Coast University Hospital and is keen to explore several specialties and the contrast of a tertiary to a rural hospital. “Through every placement that I've done, I thought, ‘I’d be interested in this.’ Rural generalism, gastroenterology or internal medicine are my top three at the moment,” she says.
“I really like the challenge of problem solving. I like helping people, talking to people, and doing something that's challenging and rewarding. Preventative medicine is probably where I would want to go – helping people find ways that work for them to change behaviours and lifestyle that can then improve their health in the long run.”
Outside of medicine, Annabelle enjoys exercising at the gym or on walks and hikes, and does wheel pottery. Her advice to new students is: “It's important to have a good uni-life balance. When you're studying, think of the bigger picture. It's a lot easier to enjoy your study when you're applying it and thinking how this will make me a better doctor. That obviously becomes easier with placements. Having a really good support group as well I think is important. Being nice, engaged and interested in medicine goes further than if you're really knowledgeable. Listening to patients and doctors is what makes a difference, or at least that's what I found.”
James Cook University Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery students get a values-aligned education while improving the health of underserved communities. Find out how country kids Abbey Godwin-Smith and Alex Russell came full circle at JCU after growing up together at Rolleston.