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Training in Aboriginal Health

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to train and work in an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS)? We asked six GPs currently training and working in an ACCHS in New England/Northwest about their experience.

Dr James White – GPT2

My introduction to training in Aboriginal health has been very interesting, there has been a wide range of presentations from young kids to older patients with complex chronic diseases.

There are challenges in the different cultural approach to health, but the most enjoyable aspect of working here is the larger team than you would normally have in a practice. The Aboriginal health workers make up a very supportive team in tracking down patients and getting involved in looking after people they know well, we’re more tools for them instead of us organising everything.

I’m currently alternating between Inverell and Glen Innes, with the aim to practice at Glen Innes permanently.

Dr Camilla King – GPT3

I wanted to get exposure to all facets of medicine so I deliberately sought out training at Armajun Aboriginal Health Service. There were deficits in my learning in respect to dermatology and my supervisor, is an expert and that’s her passion, so I thought if I can couple learning from her plus learning and getting exposure to Aboriginal health that is going to be a big win.

The presentations here are different to those you would see in mainstream medicine. The patients here are more unwell than the patients I have previously been seeing, they tend to have multiple problems. You’re trying to address as much as you can while patients are here. Recently I had a young patient who had asthma, but nobody had ever explained to him about the spacer and why you use a spacer. It’s things that we take for granted that have been explained to people, it needs time and a more simplified explanation, because if it gets confusing for us so why wouldn’t it be confusing for other people?

My long-term goal is to be a rural GP. It’s much more rewarding in the country. I lived in Tamworth for five years, I’d walk along the street and I would see lots of people that I knew, it’s a nice feeling and you don’t get that in the city. I was warned that Inverell people are very friendly and that has been case!

Dr Xuchu (James) Tong – GPT3

I decided to be a GP because I like the continuity of care. I did about two years of emergency medicine and I found that there was a break in the care and I didn’t know what happened to my patients. As a GP you have that first point of contact with patients and continuity of care which is why I want to be a GP.

The thing I enjoy about training here is the longer appointments, so you really do get to explore the various medical issues, there is less of a focus on costs so there is a very different expectation. I also appreciate the extensive support available at Armajun, there is access to Aboriginal health workers, dental care, psychologists and nurses that are all here to help.

Dr Yun Lam (Kenneth) Cheung – Extension Awaiting Fellowship

Although I think Aboriginal health has its challenges, in general working here is great because of the concept of being a community-owned health service. There are a lot of services here on site and it’s great to work alongside Aboriginal health workers and nurses – it’s a large team and it’s enjoyable to work with this group of people.

The Aboriginal health workers and receptionists are from the community, and it makes a difference. One of the challenges is getting clients to return and having those community connections helps.

I think working here is a good learning experience, there are presentations you don’t see or manage as much in other practices, even the demographics are different.

Dr Julia Fomiatti – GP supervisor

I received my fellowship whilst working in Brisbane in 1994.  I relocated to Glen Innes to experience rural-based medicine. I’ve since worked in Glen Innes, Tenterfield, Armidale and Inverell.  I’m originally from Cairns and absolutely hate the cold, but ironically do like the New England!

The complexity of cases seen is just amazing. From a medical perspective it’s both challenging and exciting to work at improving the health of our Indigenous population.

I’m also a skin cancer physician and regularly teach skin cancer medicine to my registrars.

I’ve been a supervisor for a long time. I enjoy helping my registrars become competent, confident professionals who love what they do and love coming to work every day; registrars who will develop the passion I have about early detection of disease, keeping people alive for longer.

Dr Suha Tazami – GP

I trained here for a year, I’m now a fully qualified GP and I was offered an extension to stay on. I’ve already started some outreach community programs – we are working on school screening for kids, screening at PCYC programs like boxing, and other community sporting events. We take the opportunity to be there and offer health screening and other health promotions.  We can also now do hearing assessments ourselves, we have nurses and health workers who are fully trained to do that. It’s all very exciting!

I really enjoy, and I admire, the comprehensive aspect of healthcare here.  We try to provide everything on site, so we’ve got mental health programs, drug and alcohol programs, GP consultations, podiatry and dietitian consultations, and a dental clinic. There are a lot of services to utilise that will eventually help to close the gap.

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