In Australia’s many regional and rural areas, access to healthcare can often be compromised by the tyranny of distance. UOW’s Graduate Medicine is working to build a rural medical workforce for the future by ensuring all students spend a year living and training in a regional setting. We spoke to four young doctors who have fallen in love with life in a small town.
Dr Angela Aldridge, Albury-Wodonga, NSW
Dr Angela Aldridge has never had a desire to live in the city. For the self-described country girl, working and living in a regional community was always part of the plan.
“I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, and married a farmer. We had three children and wanted to bring our kids up in a country area,” she says.
Dr Aldridge is now based in Albury-Wodonga after last year completing her studies at UOW’s Graduate Medicine. She is undertaking her 12-month internship, which all doctors must do after finishing their degree and sees them cycle through clinical situations and placements, including emergency care, general practice, and surgery.
Dr Aldridge aims to specialise in general practice and emergency or anaesthetics, so she can split her time between her own practice and the local hospital. She has been part of the Murray to the Mountains Intern Program, which helps train the next generation of regional GPs.
Working in a regional area has been invaluable for Dr Aldridge, who says it has improved her skills and provided a unique insight into the needs of the community.
“You have more responsibilities and it’s more challenging working in a regional hospital. You do more and see more than if you were in a city,” she says. “I’m currently on my surgical rotation so I
spend my shifts in surgery. But often I’m on call in the hospital, so I can also be tending to emergencies or delivering babies.
“To work in a regional area, you need flexibility and you need to be dedicated, easy-going, and able to roll with the punches. That’s one of the real benefits of studying at UOW. Because UOW has an application that is based on your portfolio and your life skills, not just your test marks, it produces doctors that are well-rounded and level-headed.”
Dr Aldridge is passionate about ensuring these essential skills remain in regional communities. She has no regrets about building a life in the country.
“I wanted a job that was meaningful and I’ve found it here,” she says. “Everyone gets to know you in a small community. It’s an amazing lifestyle and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Dr Aliza Heywood, Broken Hill, NSW
Medicine took Dr Aliza Heywood to Broken Hill, but it was love that made her stay.
Dr Heywood was based in the far west NSW mining town for her year-long rural placement, but not long after she arrived, she met her husband-to-be, a fifth generation sheep and cattle farmer.
“When I came out to Broken Hill, I never imagined I’d still be here three years later. I knew after our first date it was serious. I thought ‘Oh no, this is bad news’,” she says with a laugh.
But the young doctor wouldn’t change a thing. Dr Heywood says the rural location – in a town with a population of 18,000 – has enabled her to have a more hands-on role than if she was in a city hospital. It also means she can build the future she wants, and right now, that involves splitting her time between training as a rural GP, and working in the local hospital.
“Even before I started medical school, I knew I could never live in Sydney long-term,” says Dr Heywood. “As a junior doctor, you get hands on experience and one-on-one training, which you would never get in a big city. You also get the chance to have a long-term relationship with your patients, and provide them with good continuity of care.”
While Dr Heywood says living in a rural area is not for everyone, it’s something she has grown to love.
“It definitely has its perks. You are part of the community,” she says. “I get to create the career I want. In the future, I plan on spending a few days a week in the hospital, and a few as a GP, and down the line, I’d love to work with the Rural Flying Doctor Service.”
Dr John Cherry, Orange, NSW
As a Graduate Medicine student, Dr John Cherry spent a year in the NSW town of Mudgee. It is an experience all UOW medical students undergo, with the aim of encouraging a permanent move to a regional area. For Dr Cherry, it worked.
If you ask him what he loves about his adopted hometown of Orange, in the NSW Central West, he is quick to answer, with a laugh: “What’s not to love about Orange? There’s great food, great wine, and you’re never far from a great cup of coffee.”
Dr Cherry moved to Australia from London 14 years ago, and has found a home among the leafy streets and heritage charm of Orange.
“One of the beauties of rural life is that the stresses of life in a metro area just seem to evaporate. Driving to work and battling traffic, trying to find a parking spot, housing affordability and the cost of living, all of that is gone in the country. There’s also less isolation, because you may be geographically isolated, but you are surrounded by friends very quickly here,” he says.
“I really treasure rural lifestyles. I have to thank UOW for exposing me to that, because it was through working in Mudgee that I fell in love with the rhythms of country life.”
Dr Cherry is undergoing dual training between emergency medicine and rural general practice, which he says will enable him to help as many people as possible. He is incredibly passionate about the opportunities and obstacles posed by being a doctor in a rural area.
“The practice of medicine in country NSW is not only unique in Australia, but also across the globe, because we are facing some of the most sparsely populated places on the planet, and trying to provide first-world health outcomes.
“We face real challenges every day in trying to bridge that gap. I see myself in a very privileged position, I’m so lucky to be able to have a positive impact on patients’ lives every day.”
Dr Kaitlin Faulkner, Nowra, NSW
The pace and diversity of life in a regional hospital is what Dr Kaitlin Faulkner loves about her job. From the moment she walks through the doors of Shoalhaven Hospital, she has no idea what the coming hours will bring and it’s that sense of the unknown that drew her to a career in medicine.
“It’s exciting and constantly changing,” says Dr Faulkner, who moved to Nowra more than six years ago for her regional placement. “No two days are the same.”
Dr Faulkner had planned to train in her chosen fields – anaesthetics and GP – before relocating to her native Queensland to practice. But, life intervened, and not long after she moved to Nowra, she met her boyfriend, who is in the Navy and based at Shoalhaven’s Albatross station.
In addition to finding love, Dr Faulkner discovered a warm, welcoming environment at Shoalhaven Hospital, which she says does a “phenomenal job” at servicing the growing community. She has
also relished the chance to gain invaluable training in a stream of medicine she loves.
“In anaesthetics, you are with patients at their most vulnerable time. They are really nervous and they are literally putting their lives in your hands, so I love being able to help them through that."
The addition of the School of Medicine at UOW Shoalhaven has been invaluable for the region, Dr Faulkner says, and has played a huge role in encouraging young doctors to build a future on the South Coast.
After more than six years at Shoalhaven Hospital, Dr Faulkner has worked across every department and is now a familiar face in the hospital halls. She believes that sense of camaraderie, particularly among the young female staff, has made going to work every day a joy.
“I work with so many young female doctors who are making a difference. It’s a great feeling to be part of that.”
In the last few years, work has become a family affair, with Dr Faulkner’s sister Jessica relocating to the region to complete her own medical studies.
“Jessica was a teacher for eight years,” Dr Faulkner says. “She enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. We used to joke about her becoming a doctor and coming down here with me, and now she’s doing it. She started at Graduate Medicine the year after I finished, and she has since moved to Nowra for her training.
“It’s really nice to have her nearby and to be able to support each other.”
Dr Aliza Heywood
Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery, 2016
Dr Angela Aldridge
Doctor of Medicine, 2017
Dr John Cherry
Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery, 2015
Dr Kaitlin Faulkner
Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery, 2015