Kirstin Nicholson, The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper
Dr Megan Belot is the new president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA). Locals will know Dr Belot through her previous role as a GP at the Cohuna Clinic, and her current roles as a GP anaesthetist at Cohuna Hospital, GP at Northern District Community Health (NDCH) Medical Clinic in Kerang and a GP anaesthetist and Visiting Medical Officer at Echuca Hospital.
“It is a great honour and a fantastic opportunity to make change in rural and remote Australia,” Dr Belot said of her appointment. “I really feel like there is significant disproportion between rural and metro and I really want to see that closed to make sure that everyone gets a fair go.”
Dr Belot gained extensive medical experience around Australia before she settled in Gunbower, where she lives with her husband and two-year-old son.
During her five-year degree at Monash University, most of her last three years of placements were in rural settings. Her internship was at Box Hill Hospital, then she spent two terms at Bairnsdale Hospital. It was there that she experienced the work that rural generalist doctors do and was impressed that she could do a combination of hospital work, GP work and specialise in something like obstetrics or anaesthetics.
Her residency was at Darwin for two years and she worked in indigenous communities and Katherine Hospital. She did locum work for two years to decide if she wanted to steer towards surgery or emergency, working as a GP in detention centres on Christmas Island and other areas of Australia.
Following that, Dr Belot gained her JCCA qualification to become a GP anaesthetist in Bendigo, then went on to do her GP training in Echuca. It was while she was there that she first started working with Dr Barker in theatre at the Cohuna District Hospital.
She took a year to work with the Royal Flying Doctors in Broken Hill, but missing her anaesthetic work, she returned to the Echuca and Cohuna area in 2016 and completed her GP training.
The new presidency will see Dr Belot performing her duties around her current roles and work on the family’s beef farm near Echuca.
Dr Belot’s main aim during her two-year term is to see the rollout of the National Rural Generalist Program which is designed to formally train rural generalist GPs. A five-year program, the aim is to ensure that doctors get all the adequate skills they need to be a rural generalist, so they feel confident in being a ‘jack of all trades’.
“I feel very lucky. I love working in Kerang, and the work I do in Echuca and Cohuna is very meaningful.”
“With widespread shortages of rural doctors right across Australia, it has never been more important to shape rural medicine into a career option that is attractive to younger doctors,” said Dr Belot.
“RDAA plays a pivotal role in the development of programs and policies by the commonwealth, and I am humbled to be able to represent my colleagues as president of this great organisation and work towards achieving a bright future in rural medicine for my colleagues and friends who have already shared in this rural doctor journey, and for those who will be our successors.
“By bringing together rural doctor training, recruitment and retention, making accessing rural training and practice as easy as possible for our younger doctors and working to retain our senior rural clinicians and clinical mentors, we can make a real difference for rural Australian’s ability to access healthcare closer to home.”
This is not the first time we have had local representation on the Rural Doctors Association (RDA). In fact, Cohuna has a long relationship with the association. Dr Peter Graham, a renowned doctor in Cohuna for almost 50 years, was the first president of the RDA in 1991.
The Peter Graham ‘Cohuna’ Award was established by the RDAA and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine to honour Dr Graham. The award recognises a practitioner that has provided outstanding advocacy and medical service to their community. In 2019 our own Dr Peter Barker received this award.
We are, indeed, fortunate to have such passionate and driven doctors in our community.
Dr Belot, who has also been the RDA Victoria president, is sure to make her own mark on the Australian rural medical scene.
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 4 November 2021.