Pre-internship prep in paradise

Zillie Falls, Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit

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Written By

Andrew Cramb

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

8 November 2022

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Becoming part of the team on an extended rural placement in Atherton

After years of intensive training, including over 3,370 hours on placements, our sixth-year medical students are on the cusp of graduating. As they look to the future and prepare for internship, they’re also looking back on some of the key experiences of medical training at JCU.

For Marina Khair, the most formative experience has come in the final five months of her degree, an 18-week placement on the Atherton Tablelands. She’s reflected on what the placement has meant to her and how it’s prepared her to become a doctor.

At the end of my fifth year, I found myself reminiscing on my years in medical school and it really centred on my medical rotations in rural towns. Looking back, my second and fourth-year placements in Proserpine and Innisfail were thoroughly enjoyable experiences (despite my minimal knowledge at the time!).

While in Innisfail, there were two sixth-years at the hospital who were on extended rural placements. I could see how experienced they’d become with their practical skills and how involved they were in the team. With this in mind, and eager to expand my skill set, I applied for an extended rural placement, preferencing various rural towns. I was fortunate to be offered a place in Atherton!

Despite my thrill at completing my final medical school exams at the end of 2021, I found myself feeling unprepared for the prospect of becoming an intern. Since being at the Atherton Hospital, my confidence approaching next year has grown significantly! The experiences of training in a rural town have been invaluable.

Marina at Atherton Hospital
Marina hiking on the Tablelands.
Left: Marina outside Atherton Hospital. Right: Marina taking in the views on a weekend hike (images supplied by Marina Khair).

Chasing waterfalls: unforgettable weekend adventures

Atherton Hospital is such a hub for the Tablelands and the wider region. There are a lot of complex medical conditions and tropical diseases, on top of what you might get in other areas. It can also get quite busy! Sometimes you can be looking after four of five patients, almost entirely by yourself. It’s a lot more responsibility, but it’s not daunting because you’ve got the support and trust of the consultants and the seniors.

My favourite part of the hospital was on the wards. I often had to step up as the 'acting intern' for the medical registrar, although of course I was still fully supervised at all times. We were looking after patients who were not just medically complex cases, with various co-morbidities, but also had social challenges to take into consideration, such as coming into Atherton from a remote area. You are part of the workforce and you’re very involved and you feel like you’re making a difference. Patients are very thankful, and you feel valued.

These experiences have grown my confidence to be a good junior doctor next year, as well as my interest in physician training. I also now confidently know that I have established an excellent rapport with supervisors who will continue to be mentors for me during this journey.

These experiences have grown my confidence to be a good junior doctor next year, as well as my interest in physician training. I also now confidently know that I have established an excellent rapport with supervisors who will continue to be mentors for me during this journey.

Outside the hospital, the highlight of placement has been my adventurous weekend hikes! When I first moved to Atherton, I did not know many people, but I was eager to experience all the Tablelands had to offer. That opportunity arose early on when I found a hiking group to join. My first weekend was spent on an eight-hour hike to the beautiful West Mulgrave and Rapid Falls. This hike tested my physical abilities amidst the heavy rain but was an unforgettable experience, allowing me to meet like-minded people who have continued to be friends to this day! Since then, I have seen 13  waterfalls and completed around 15 hikes around the Atherton Tablelands.

I love the shared energy by the locals, including doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals in exploring and valuing the beautiful scenery. Many of the doctors joined in on the hikes, which were frequently followed by evening campfires and it was a thrilling experience getting to know everyone.

Next year I will be heading down to the Sunshine Coast for an intern position with an ongoing interest in physician training. Rural generalism still appeals to me however because of the broad set of skills as the ‘jack of all trades’ medicine that adds advanced skills training in specialties like obstetrics or paediatrics. I think the ability to have a broad general scope with more detail of a certain area is interest is really appealing. I’ll miss the things that Townsville gave me over the past six years, but I am ready for a new experience!

Looking back on my time on extended placement, I am filled with such gratitude. I am indebted to the wonderful community of the Tablelands that expanded my knowledge, transformed my confidence, and supported me in every step of the process of becoming a better junior doctor.

The JCU extended rural placement program is not only shaping our future doctors but also providing significant value to the communities our students are training in. An Australian-first, peer-reviewed study has discovered that these final-year placements are delivering a 7.6-fold return on investment.

Marina at a waterfall on the Tablelands
Marina at a waterfall on the Tablelands
Marina at a waterfall on the Tablelands
Chasing waterfalls: Marina has found plenty of beautiful places to explore during her time on the Atherton Tablelands.

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