Pat Fordham and Emma Pritchard, Clarence Valley Independent
They have travelled far, some from the other side of the world, to continue honing their skills in a professional capacity after accepting twelve-month training placements across a number of disciplines to prepare for the next stages of their careers.
And it’s all happening right here in the Clarence Valley.
2021 has seen a return to medical registrar training at Grafton Base Hospital and Joanne Chad, program coordinator from Clarence Valley Regional Training Hub, couldn’t be happier.
“Clarence Health Service have recruited medical registrars this year who are completing specialty training, rural generalist, advanced skills and a vocationally registered GP who is updating their skills in emergency medicine through GP proceduralist training program” she said.
“Each year funding is available through Health and Education Training Institute (HETI) Rural and Remote program to fund medical training programs in regional, rural and remote areas.
“Through this funding model, Clarence Health Service is able to recruit, train and hopefully retain these clinicians to Grafton, helping to build a larger medical workforce to support our community.
“It is great that we are able to attract medical registrars and GPs and welcome them to the local area, but our other aim is to encourage them to stay as rural and regional areas need their services.”
During the past three years, CVRTH has worked with Clarence Health Service and Grafton and Maclean Hospital discipline teams to establish twelve-month vocational training opportunities.
In addition to the five hospital based medical registrars, the Clarence Valley also has GP registrars continuing their training in practices across Grafton, Maclean and Yamba.
Four of these GP registrars are through the Australian General Practice Training program (AGPT) and two have been recruited through the RACGP Practice Experience Program.
The Clarence Valley presently has six GP Registrars training and living locally in 2021, the most we have seen in years.
The opportunity to increase the Clarence Valleys GP registrar training placements followed the Federal Government’s reclassification of the Murwillumbah region from rural to metropolitan in 2020.
The change provided the Clarence Valley Regional Training Hub (CVRTH) with an opportunity to attract medical graduates to the area and maximise local training engagements for medical trainees and junior doctors, rather than them relocating to capital cities to gain their qualifications.
Speaking with the Clarence Valley Independent last week, the medical professionals said they are looking to stay in the region long-term, identifying Grafton as a place where they can not only grow their medical careers but also raise their families.
Many of the new faces in the hospital are from the big cities, with this being their first time working and living in a regional area, whereas others have spent over a decade in regional parts of the country.
They all hope to serve the community to the best of their ability.
Orthopaedic registrar Sherng Lee said there were plenty of attractions which lead to him pursuing a specialty career in medicine.
“Orthopaedic surgery is fun, it’s very technical, and being able to achieve great outcomes so quickly for patients gives you a great feeling,” he said.
“Being able to see patients walking again after sustaining a femur fracture or undergoing a knee or hip replacement, it is an amazing feeling to know you’ve made a big difference in their lives and it’s certainly very rewarding.”
After graduating from Monash University and travelling around Australia while working as an orthopaedic registrar in Tasmania, Victoria and Newcastle, Dr Lee is slowly making his way north and is currently in Grafton where he is completing a twelve-month training post which will enable him to gain experience, skills and complete log book entries to support his application to the Royal Australian College of Surgeons Orthopaedic department.
“When asked if he is enjoying his time in Grafton, Dr Lee complimented the local community and said he’s been made to feel very welcome.
“Everyone has been very friendly and lovely,” he said, adding his previous experiences in rural and regional areas have contributed to him strongly considering the possibility of working outside the larger metropolitan locations full-time.
“I’ve worked in a few regional places throughout my time as an orthopaedic registrar and I’ve found they have a more homely feel,” he said.
“They’re more welcoming and it’s nice to be a part of a smaller community and to be able to professionally give something back to a smaller community.”
Dr Lee said it would be fantastic for more specialists to live and work in rural and regional areas and he is certainly considering the option of working in the country full-time.
The 40-year-old first had an interest in medicine from a young age; studying at the University of Nigeria where he specialised in Medicine, before working in the country for three years in the medical field.
Wanting to expand his horizons, he made his way to Australia when deciding to further his study through a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Queensland (UQ).
“So, coming to UQ, I did my masters and in the process of doing the masters, I was like why don’t you try doing the AMC exams and see what will come out of it,” the new registrar said.
“I did AMC exams and I was successful, so after studying the Australian health system which is fantastic, I went to go look for a job in Australia.”
Dr Ogbujieze went on to work in the regional areas straight after his Master’s, making his way to Kempsey where he worked in General Practice for nine years.
He thoroughly enjoyed his time in Kempsey, but believed it was time to move on when an offer came about to specialise in Paediatrics at Grafton Base Hospital.
“I also decided to do the Fellowship of the Advanced Rural General Practice, which involved having the twelve-month training position in paediatrics, which is my area of interest,” Dr Ogbujieze said.
The Nigerian born medical professional hopes to stay in the area long-term, with regional NSW being part of his life ever since he moved to Australia.
Inspired by the popular Australian drama The Flying Doctors as a young girl growing up in the Netherlands, Annemarie Winters knew medicine would play an important role in her future.
As a medical student, so strong was her attachment to the lifesaving efforts of the characters she had grown up admiring, that when she had the opportunity to organise her International work placement in Australia, she started googling Cooper’s Crossing, only to find the fictional outback town did not exist.
But the inland mining town of Broken Hill, which also featured in the series did, so she contacted the local Royal Flying Doctor Service base and brought her dream to life.
After beginning her work placement with the medical air service in 2001, Dr Winters soon fell in love with the Australian lifestyle and worked in hospitals across Queensland before meeting her husband.
Together, they decided Northern NSW was a good place to settle, and Dr Winters connection with Grafton was established.
“I’ve had a bit of a break from working full-time in the last three years because we had three little people come into this world which caused a lot of sleepless nights, but I’m very excited because Grafton has given me the opportunity to do a twelve month part time placement to be a GP procedural job,” she said.
“It means as a GP I get the opportunity to work more in emergency medicine which I always liked and I like being able to help people.”
Dr Winters is a GP proceduralist registrar through the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and her position is funded through the HETI Rural and Remote program.
She is currently completing her emergency medicine advanced rural specialty training which will provide her with the experience and skills to continue working at the Grafton Base Hospital emergency department.
“I really like Grafton and my husband and I decided the area is great for kids to grow up in, so we’ll be sticking around for a while.”
Mitch Van Deurse
Originally from Queensland, Mitch Van Deurse has been a locum in the Grafton Base Hospital Emergency Department through 2020 and jumped at the opportunity to complete speciality training through the Australian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) accredited training posts in the local area.
A first year ACEM Registrar who is training to become an Emergency Medicine physician, Dr Van Deurse said he was attracted to Grafton by the knowledgeable staff at the hospital and credits it as a really enjoyable facility to work at.
“It’s exciting to be able to train here as a registrar,” he said.
“Everyone is very friendly and the community are very appreciative of the care that you give to them.”
Dr Van Deurse said he is still deciding if he will work in a regional or rural area and admits he didn’t really think about it during medical school, although his current experiences in the Clarence Valley are opening his eyes at the prospects of opportunities in rural and regional areas.
“Training takes you wherever you may go and it depends where you can get a job afterwards,” he said, adding job placement also depended on the specialty of the individual.
Melinda Swan began her journey into the medical field after she completed her undergraduate study, deciding to study medicine as a master’s in Canberra.
Ever since then she has lived and worked in regional NSW, moving down to Bega while still in her training phase, then making her way up to Coffs Harbour where she spent four years developing her skills in the medical field.
When looking to move away from Coffs Harbour, Grafton was the ideal choice.
The training college here, along with some strong family roots pulled her towards the regional centre.
“I grew up in Sydney, but my mum and grandparents are from Grafton,” she said.
Dr Swan is nearing the end of her time at the college but believes that the independence that she has gained and the range of patients that need her help are two things which she has enjoyed and further looks forward to about her experience at Grafton Base Hospital.
Each place she looks to, she looks for a friendly vibe and believes she has found that here in Grafton.
Towards the end of the year, Dr Swan will hopefully be finishing up her training in the emergency section, where she hopes to be spending most of her time.
After she completes her training, she hopes to stay in the area and serve the people of Grafton for the indefinite future.
This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 17 February 2021.