College of Medicine and Dentistry
8 May 2023
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Led by inspiration and opportunities
Working as a health professional in rural or remote communities offers a wide variety of opportunities and experiences in a unique natural environment. For JCU Outstanding Alumni Dr Renee Cremen, the complex challenges that come with a career in rural medicine are passion-provoking.
Inspired by her childhood in Far North Queensland, Renee has always had a love for the rural and tropical regions of Australia. Her motivation for medicine was influenced by her mother’s career as a school principal and science and mathematics teacher.
“I loved growing up in Cairns; going camping and the trips we took around outback Australia were foundational building blocks in my love for a tropical lifestyle. And I’ve always had a love for science, similar to my mum’s,” Renee says. “I’m also someone who will take up opportunities. So, growing up, I exposed myself to many different avenues in health care and science.”
When she was in high school, Renee took part in JCU’s Heroes in Health, a two-day program that gives school students the chance to explore medical, nursing and allied health careers. Following that, Renee did work experience with a family friend that was a General Practitioner (GP).
“Through those opportunities and experiences, I decided that medicine was the career for me,” she says. “Once I got into medical school, I continued to take up every opportunity available to gain experience in different locations. One of my placements was in Batemans Bay in New South Wales and that highlighted to me that I liked tropical diseases. Then, I did my second-year placement in Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, and I really enjoyed the Indigenous health aspect.”
Now, 12 years later, Renee is the Medical Superintendent of two facilities — Babinda Multipurpose Health Service and Yarrabah Emergency Service.
An inspiring journey
In 2018 Renee was awarded Rural Doctor of the Year, in 2019 she won Clinical Educator of the Year, and in 2022 she received JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry Outstanding Alumni award.
But Renee’s journey to becoming a doctor was not all smooth sailing. The first two times she applied for JCU’s Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery she was unsuccessful in securing a spot. Instead, Renee began university doing a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences.
“I did two years of biomed at JCU and during that time my passion for medicine only grew,” she says. “Although I loved my immunology and biochemistry subjects, and I loved the medical laboratory and learning about diseases, I knew that I wanted to work with the patient and not the specimen.”
In 2003 Renee was accepted into JCU’s Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery. After graduating five years later, Renee completed her post-graduate years in Cairns.
“During my post-graduate year two, in the lead up to starting my Advanced Skills Training (AST) in obstetrics and gynaecology, I was uncertain if this was the AST I wanted to complete. At the time there was a workforce shortage in Babinda. So, my husband and I decided to make the move there with the plan to fill that shortage for 12 months, deferring my O&G AST,” Renee says.
“6 months in I was really happy with the medicine I was doing, and I felt fulfilled in my role. I had also become one of two stable doctors in the town. So, I changed my AST to population health, which I could complete in Babinda, and decided to stay and ensure continuity of care within this community.”
Renee has been in Babinda ever since. During that time, she has advanced her career by gaining new skills and continuing to take up any opportunities available to her.
“Since coming to Babinda I’ve completed an AST in emergency medicine, undertaken the Queensland Health Executive Leadership Program, and completed an Associate Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators (AFRACMA),” she says.
Renee’s achievements also include supervising JCU medical students undertaking placements, organising Babinda Hospital’s inaugural Umbrella Ball, and having a family of three with her husband Nathan.
Reaping rural rewards
Now, as Medical Superintendent of Babinda Multipurpose Health Service and Yarrabah Emergency Service, no day looks the same for Renee.
“The days that I enjoy the most are the ones that can be the most chaotic,” she says. “I seem to like walking into chaos, organising it, and feeling the sense of relief and achievement once everyone has calmed down.”
Working in rural practices means being exposed to, and responsible for, a wide variety of cases. Renee says the complex challenges, problem solving and broad delivery of services that come with a career in rural medicine are rewarding.
“As a Rural Generalist, I work in Babinda’s GP clinic, hospital, emergency department and aged care facility, and Yarrabah’s emergency department. I get to provide quite a large scope of health care to patients, which I may not have ever been able to do in an urban setting,” she says.
“My day-to-day can involve anything from sub-acute care or general practice through to supervising trainees or completing rosters. One of the most beautiful things about having a career in medicine is that you’re not limited to one special interest, subspecialty or region of work: there are a variety of career paths you can pursue and upskill in.”
For medical students navigating university, Renee highlights the importance of exploring options and getting exposure to different areas of medicine.
“Jump at opportunities to gain experience. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to people, because you never know what you might discover. This degree and this career have so much opportunity.”