Budding doctors Tom Pike and Max Deighton leapt at the chance to work in the Gove area. (Supplioed)
A unique medical program in the Northern Territory has found a simple way to combat a shortage of skilled GPs willing to work in the bush.
Giving students a taste of bush life early in their training means doctors are more likely to take up positions in remote areas later on in their careers, according to Flinders University.
The Northern Territory Medical Program, run through the university, allows medical students to complete part of their study in a remote community health setting, with a focus on Indigenous health exposure.
As part of the partnership, budding GPs spend four months at various hospitals, including Gove in East Arnhem Land, around 900 kilometres from Darwin.
The high indigenous population comes with chronic illness, and the Top End environment can lead to some unique presentations.
Third-year medical student Max Deighton, who has recently arrived in the region for training, said it had been an eye-opening experience.
Students do regular shifts in the hospital while training in Nhulunbuy. (Flickr: John Benwell)
“We’ve seen some things we would have never seen back in Adelaide or even as far south as Alice Springs,” he said.
The soon-to-be doctors do regular shifts in the hospital, while continuing to study and train at the Flinders University campus in Nhulunbuy.
Tom Pike, another third-year student, said he jumped at the chance to train remotely.
“Indigenous health as well as remote health are two things I’ve been interested in, and being from the city I just had no idea what it would be like,” he said.
“So having the opportunity to come out here, you can’t not [do it].”
Students immersed in daily community life
The grand ambition of the program is to get future doctors to consider a career as a rural generalist, addressing a desperate shortage of GPs with the necessary skills to work in remote clinics and hospitals.
Dr Sarah Chalmers was raised in Nhulunbuy and has devoted more than 20 years to the region as a local GP.
She now heads up the training of young doctors in Gove and Tennant Creek.
“The third-year students, the majority of the time in the hospital we do put them out into the local Aboriginal medical service where they have the opportunity to work in remote communities,” she said.
The students are also encouraged to immerse themselves in daily community life to better understand the bush.
“[We’re] just trying to get involved as much as we can,” Mr Pike said.
“We’re playing for the Djarrak Football Club for the footy and we’re terrible at footy, but it’s good fun.
“Going down there … getting involved in the local radio and the local surf club.”
Both students concede regional Australia was not on their radar as a career path before their stint out bush. Now, they cannot wait to come back.
“Coming up here has definitely opened my eyes to what the medicine in the community and the lifestyle is like out here,” Mr Pike said.
Dr Chalmers said she had seen plenty of young doctors catch a bug for remote living after their training.
“Currently at the hospital there are three doctors who all did time here as medical students,” she said.
“I work in Tennant Creek and I’ve got two registrars who were my original medical students training to be rural generalist and working in other remote parts of the NT.”
The Northern Territory Rural Clinical School operates in Nhulunbuy, Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek.