Shock for GP in country practice
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.’’
Mary Fortune was overwhelmed by her outback experience.