Rural Health Workforce Australia is the peak body for the state and territory Rural Workforce Agencies. Our not-for-profit Network attracts, recruits and supports health professionals for rural and remote communities.

making healthcare accessible

Our guide to going rural (if we can do it, so can you)

By Drs Gerry and Melanie Considine
Clare, South Australia

One year on as a newly fellowed rural GP couple, we have a golden opportunity to look back on the last 12 months and revisit some of the amazing lessons we have learnt in the country, not only professionally, but also personally.

In this time we worked in a small practice that covered a few towns in rural South Australia - including clinic work, after-hours on-call and travel.

We hope that some of these lessons may help future rural GPs and may even ring some tinnitus-like bells for those who have gone before us!

We found that it worked best when as rural GPs we viewed ourselves as part of the community first and foremost, who then happen to be local doctors. Integration into any community is paramount if you are to survive long-term as a rural GP. Getting to know people outside of the consulting room means that you can begin to build friendships and a support network.

We loved joining in on local music nights, judging talent shows and attending health promotion events. It is also a way to demonstrate to locals that you are another human being with other interests, rather than just a desk-bound diagnostic machine.

The broad scope of rural general practice has positively stretched and shaped us, however some doctors in our generation may view rural medicine as overly challenging. At times we felt similarly, and sometimes inadequate as newly minted GPs in the early days. However, there are many senior GPs, GP colleges and training providers ready to support you - including courses in emergency airway and obstetric skills.

Going rural doesn't always mean you must obtain procedural skills like anaesthetics or obstetrics. Rather. the GP's skill-set can be tailored to meet the specific needs of a community. This may involve a focus, for example, on aged care, chronic disease management, palliative care, paediatrics, mental health or emergency medicine.

In the age of social media, professional networking and peer support is occurring increasingly online, which greatly reduces the tyranny of distance experienced by doctors in rural and remote areas.

Finally, self-care is vitally important to maintain good personal relationships and limit the risk of burnout, in order to continue caring for others.

It is imperative that you take time to tend your mental health garden by playing sport, reading non-medical books, knitting, spending time with family, playing music or doing whatever relaxes you.

Sometimes you even need to physically remove yourself from your community and town for respite. We were fortunate enough on one occasion to be able to literally fly away for the weekend to Kangaroo Island and it honestly felt like we were on the other side of the world on holidays.

We are not super-docs, and if we can do it, others can!

We highly recommend that other junior GPs consider taking a chance on a rural community, so that they can have a rich, fulfilling experience like we have had.

Posted: March 2015