I’m a permanent fly-in-fly-out GP in the NT. Recently, I partly retired so I’m now doing NT locum work.
Eleven years ago, when I first arrived for three weeks as a locum in East Arnhem Land, I had planned to visit once a year to break up the routine of my family GP practice in Victoria. But the work and place quickly got under my skin and before long I stopped working in Victoria.
To begin with, the learning curve was steep – medically, logistically, and culturally. However, most GPs, nurses, hospital registrars, specialists and emergency retrieval teams are more than helpful and accustomed to teaching newcomers the ropes. Even now, barely a day goes by where I don’t pick up the phone for advice. In that regard, the NT leads the country in providing specialist support for its remote doctors and I can’t imagine working without that support.
The medicine in the NT is beyond fascinating with a range of presentations barely seen in ‘mainstream’ practice. The learning never stops and that’s a great part of the work. Much of what I do relates to preventable chronic conditions based in poverty. Some say what I do is a band-aid solution, and anecdotally it may not feel like we’re closing the health gap in remote NT. But people will always need doctors and nurses.
As GPs, we are uniquely positioned to coordinate the care of patients with complex comorbidities and advocate on their behalf. Also, as senior clinicians in the team, we have a duty of care to provide advice and work to improve clinical governance.
I’ve met people from many different regions and have discovered new landscapes, weather patterns, flora, and fauna. The rhythm and vibrancy of Indigenous community life and its connection to 60,000 years of history is palpable. Aboriginal people are keen to share their culture and family life with those who take an interest and I feel privileged to have learned so much from them.
There is humour in every day. I have collected more stories here in the NT than in several decades elsewhere. There can be fun to be found in the chaos. When things break down or go pear-shaped, laughter is the best solution. Once I gain trust with a patient, it’s easy to enjoy a laugh with them too. That’s what keeps me going.
Rural Workforce Agency NT, part of Northern Territory Primary Health Network, has been my ‘locum agency’ for the last couple of years. They are a preferred agency for many clinics because they are efficient and provide staff at a lesser cost than profit-driven agencies. I’m always placed in locations I request, generally, for the timeframes I request. If I have needed to change my contract due to the uncertainties of COVID-19, they are always willing to be flexible. Travel logistics are excellent — I arrive on time and get home on time (Top End wet season weather permitting, that is!) — and I am always comfortably accommodated along the way.
We certainly need more health professionals in remote NT. I understand some would find the work challenging, as I do, but the professional and emotional rewards far outweigh the challenges. The patients are some of the least healthy but most deserving I have come across in my forty years as a doctor. I feel lucky that I can do something to help, even more so when I consider the fascinating medicine and the remarkable locations.