Dr Teena Downton
Bachelor of Medical Science 2008
Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery 2012
Young rural doctor Teena Downton has become the voice of her generation in bringing better health outcomes to rural and remote communities, where services are most needed.
Joining the University of Wollongong’s rural health club SHARP during her studies, Downton found herself increasingly drawn to a career in rural health. “When I was at university, life expectancy was said to be four years less in regional, rural and remote areas, compared to Australia’s major cities,” she recalls. “Access to health professionals in remote areas was said to be half that of the cities.”
It seemed unfair to her that the one-third of Australians living outside major cities were missing out on optimal health and wellbeing, and Downton was stirred not only to make a difference herself, but to encourage her peers to do so too. “I personally see a responsibility for my generation of health professionals to consider how they can help close the gap between rural and urban Australia, and bring the best of care closer to the people in the bush,” she says.
Throwing herself into every opportunity that came her way, she became a representative on the Council of the National Rural Health Students’ Network, a world-leading multi-disciplinary network of more than 9,000 medical, nursing and allied health students nationally. She presented at conferences and special meetings of key bodies, including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners; and advocated on behalf of students and early health professionals on issues including rural student entry schemes, rural health infrastructure, and the importance of well-supported rural placement experiences. She encouraged her peers in medicine, nursing and allied health to consider the rewards of rural careers, and advocated to government and policymakers on incentives to help keep them there.
Downton took advantage of the work experience placements offered as part of her degree to explore the diversity a rural medical career can offer. “My one-year placement as a medical student in Broken Hill provided the real test as to whether rural practice was for me,” she recalls. Her days there saw her undertake a wide range of duties, from assessing motor vehicle traumas in the hospital’s emergency department, to remotely consulting with medical staff from the Royal Flying Doctors Service about sick patients potentially requiring retrieval. On one memorable occasion, she even found herself being asked to remove stiches from a dog.
She relished the opportunity to be part of the close-knit remote community, and after graduating undertook her residency with Tamworth Rural Referral Hospital, where she continued to balance the significant demands placed on a junior medical officer with initiatives to advance the rural health profession. She took on the role of President of the hospital’s Resident Medical Officer Association, and became Deputy Chair of the award-winning Hunter New England Junior Medical Officer Quality Safety Committee, where she contributed to junior doctor-led initiatives that improved the quality of care and patient safety at the district’s hospitals. “From my own experience, it has been far more rewarding to be constructive and be the change, rather than to sit back and complain,” she says.
She has been a member of the NSW Rural Doctors Association Management Committee, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia Female Doctors Group, and the Junior Medical Practitioners in Rural Australia Special Interest Group.
Both as a student and a practising medic, Downton has given considerable time to inspiring others. She has spoken to high school students in rural communities and at Indigenous events, sharing her experiences and promoting career opportunities in health. Within the health profession, her tireless work towards positive change is an inspiration to all those that work with her and meet her – whether medical students, her junior medical colleagues, or more established and experienced professionals.
Downton’s contribution as an inspiring role model and engaged community leader has been widely recognised. The young doctor has garnered numerous awards – many of them while still a student – including Rural Health Workforce Australia’s award for Outstanding Contribution in Rural Leadership, and the prestigious University of Wollongong Chancellor Robert Hope Memorial Prize. In 2009, Kiama Municipality named her Young Citizen of the Year, and in 2014 she was awarded the University of Wollongong Young Alumni Award.
Born in Taiwan and raised in Foxground, Downton now calls the NSW Central West community of Cowra home. She completed an advanced skills year in obstetrics at the Orange Base Hospital and is currently completing her general practice training in Cowra. As part of her job, Teena also helps to supervise and teach medical students as they gain knowledge and clinical experience.
Choosing a career in rural health is something of a family affair; Teena’s twin sister Teesha – who studied Medicine and Surgery alongside her – interned in Wagga Wagga in country New South Wales, and is now practicing in the Northern Territory.
“I have no regrets about my career direction,” says Downton, who hopes in the future to have a partnership in a multi-GP rural practice and to be involved in teaching. “As a rural doctor, the opportunities are endless.”
- 'Take a shot at better health' - Cowra Guardian, 5 April 2017
- 'Reflections from a chook-hugging country registrar' - p. 36, Partyline, Magazine of the National Rural Health Alliance, August 2016