Shock for GP in coun­try prac­tice

Herald Sun - Switched On - - News - ERICA THOMP­SON

SCOT­TISH doc­tor Mary For­tune knew things would be dif­fer­ent in Aus­tralia, but her first Skimpy left her gob­s­macked.

The 52-year-old, from the sleepy High­lands, spent 10 weeks work­ing in out­back West­ern Aus­tralia for a doc­u­men­tary se­ries ex­plor­ing the coun­try’s chronic doc­tor short­age.

Among her first pa­tients was a buxom blonde from the Skimp­ies top­less bar in Kal­go­or­lie.

‘‘I was amazed,’’ For­tune re­calls. ‘‘I had no idea what a Skimpy was.

‘‘They ship (the women) in from all over. They’re only there for a short while be­cause ob­vi­ously the guys get bored and need new things to look at, so they take them around and then they’re flown out and a new batch come in.’’

For­tune’s ar­rival was just as ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated in many ar­eas she vis­ited.

One doc­tor she worked with had been on call 24 hours a day for the past two years.

‘‘Re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion of doc­tors is re­ally, re­ally dif­fi­cult for all sorts of rea­sons,’’ For­tune says. ‘‘It made it all the more in­ter­est­ing to find out what ac­tu­ally hap­pens if you’re a sin­gle gen­eral prac­ti­tioner liv­ing in a small com­mu­nity where there’s very lit­tle peer-group sup­port.

‘‘Th­ese (ru­ral) GPs do have very spe­cial qual­i­ties and have to be pre­pared to do a lot of things that per­haps they don’t do in the towns. It’s quite a dif­fer­ent ball game re­ally.

‘‘Your whole do­mes­tic and per­sonal life can be com­pletely wrecked just by the de­mands of the job and, though you may not have a high pop­u­la­tion to look af­ter, you just never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen next in th­ese small places.’’

For­tune, a GP for 25 years, says she was par­tic­u­larly hor­ri­fied by the third-world health con­di­tions in some Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties.

‘‘I was ab­so­lutely shocked when I saw the med­i­cal in­put into th­ese small com­mu­ni­ties be­cause if there’s no doc­tor there’s no phar­ma­cist and if there’s no phar­ma­cist there’s no treat­ment,’’ she says.

‘‘The Abo­rig­i­nal prob­lem is im­mense and I un­der­stand that, but it’s just over­whelm­ing re­ally to see what hap­pens in th­ese ar­eas.

‘‘When you see a small child with their nose blocked and their ears run­ning, with a high tem­per­a­ture and skin prob­lems, with no drink­ing wa­ter be­cause it’s con­tam­i­nated with ni­trate from a lo­cal mine — where does your heart go?’’

It’s a stark con­trast from the ad­ver­tise­ments for for­eign doc­tors that first caught For­tune’s eye.

‘‘Ev­ery week I look at the back pages and there’s glossy pic­tures of young peo­ple scuba div­ing or what­ever: ‘Come to Aus­tralia to work’,’’ she ex­plains.

‘‘Then you come and you get put in the mid­dle of the desert for five years in a one-horse town where the last horse died and you think ‘I’m meant to be looking at the flora and fauna and div­ing for shell­fish here and I’m not’,’’ she says with a laugh.

De­spite the chal­lenges, she is keen to re­turn and work in an Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity.

‘‘I would love to come back.’’

Gob­s­macked:

Mary For­tune was over­whelmed by her out­back ex­pe­ri­ence.

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