Silver linings and opportunities

Mount Isa township


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

8 February 2021

Related Study Areas

The path to medicine

Dr Sam Bartsch thought he had the final year of his medical degree in 2020 planned out — including a placement in Solomon Islands — until COVID-19 intervened. But as the new Mount Isa Hospital intern admits, there was a silver lining. This is Sam’s story.

Growing up in Townsville I was always tossing up between a future career in either medicine or engineering. I really liked talking to people and helping them and knew I didn’t want a career where I ended up sitting behind a computer, I’d rather be on my feet interacting with people. Knowing that pretty much made up my mind and medicine became my focus.  In my last year of school, I did work experience with Medicare Local and got to spend a week with the Aboriginal Health Worker. I got to go to TAIHS (Townsville Aboriginal and Islanders Health Service) and spend time at the hospital with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and see their health care journeys. It really inspired me.

JCU was the obvious choice. It had a greater focus on Indigenous health and the location was where I wanted to study. My mum had worked in Mount Isa for many years and my sister still works there, and through them I had developed a real interest in rural and remote health, which JCU also focuses on. I’d also heard they have a heavy focus on placements and I loved the idea of getting good hands-on experience. I wanted to be out there interacting with patients, doing the hands-on stuff rather than only learning from books. It was the right choice!

Sam riding his bike on the beach
Sam and his colleagues on placement at Innisfail Hospital
Sam riding on the beach (left), Sam (far right) with his colleagues on placement in Innisfail (right)

Going rural

The rural placements have been the highlight for me, and each one has been better and better, with more experience and responsibility. It's hard to pick a favourite.

For my final year in 2020, I did 20 weeks of placement at Innisfail. The amount of responsibility we had working there was invaluable. There were no interns, so basically we were the intern.  At times, we were the only ones on the ward. We got to see the patients from the medication chart right through to the discharge summaries and liaise with the consultants. In the Emergency Department (ED), we saw our own patients, worked them up, choose what investigations we wanted and then presented to a consultant. It’s made us extremely job ready for our intern year.

I also spent 24 weeks in the Mount Isa area in 2019, including six weeks in Cloncurry. I was able to rotate to the different parts of the hospital and deal with all round health care, especially in Cloncurry. Seeing people from the stations and all the social aspects of life by going to the races and rodeos was fantastic.

COVID threw a spanner in my plans for 2020. Normally in your final year of medicine you can choose an elective placement and I was originally supposed to go to the Solomon Islands for six weeks. Unfortunately because of COVID, it was all cancelled. So I spent 10 weeks in Mount Isa instead. That was a bit of a blessing in disguise. I loved my time in there. I went into the anaesthetics department for six weeks. I learned so much there, it was such a valuable placement. So while I’m disappointed I didn't go to Solomon Islands, I still had a good placement experience.

Sam on placement in the North West enjoying the sunset
Sam and his mates in front of a waterfall
Sam enjoying time with his mates on placement

Eye on the future

This year I am interning in Mount Isa and have decided to take the rural generalist pathway. The reason I wanted to do medicine is because it's so varied, you do something different every day.

But so many specialties these days are going more and more into niche matters that focus on one thing. As a rural generalist, you get to do everything. One moment, you are birthing babies the next minute you are in the ED, or on the ward looking after a patient. It’s never the same thing day in, day out. It may sound very clichéd, but that's really what excites me. All my rural placements just confirmed how much I enjoy this style of work and living in these areas. The continuity of care you get to provide in these roles is great. Even after 20 weeks, I would feel like I knew half the patients who came into the hospital and I really enjoy that. It’s one of the great appeals of rural generalism for me.

If I could go back in time and give myself some advice on starting med school it would be this, just knuckle down and get through the first couple of years. Each year it gets better and better, more and more fun, and more hands on. The further you get through, the more relevant it gets, and the more fun it gets. So I’d say just stick through the first couple of years and work hard. It just gets better from there!
- Dr Sam Bartsch

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