Friday, 13 May 2016

Radiography leads to country GP career

If it hadn’t been for the opportunity to study medicine in Gippsland, Sharon Johnson says she would never have pursued the path that led her to general practice.

Born and bred in Churchill, Dr Johnson was schooled locally and always harboured an interest in medicine. A year 10 work experience placement, however, swayed her toward radiography, which she eventually studied at Monash University Clayton.

Country practice: Dr Sharon Johnson moved from radiology to medicine to get to know her patients better
During the course Dr Johnson engaged with several peers who, like herself, found themselves increasingly drawn to the prospect of medicine. “I loved radiography but I realised that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to follow-up on a patient’s treatment in that role and I knew I wanted to be able to get to know patients better and contribute to their ongoing treatment,” she said.

The turning point came for Dr Johnson when she realised she could return to her home town and embark on four years of graduate entry medicine studies through Monash Rural Health, commencing her first year in Churchill and undertaking the bulk of her placements in the surrounding region.

“I didn’t want to stay in the city long term, I can’t stand time wasted in traffic, so I was very happy to return home and enjoy the support of my family,” she said. Sharon’s placements included stints at the Leongatha hospital, Maryvale Hospital in Morwell and full years in Sale and Warragul followed by some final year placements in Clayton and Frankston.

“I really enjoyed my rural placements; particularly in Sale with Jennifer Casey as co-ordinator, I felt we were allowed a lot of input as students in terms of what we wanted to learn more about and this was catered for, so we could tag along with paramedics or district nurses, for example.

“I also spent 10 weeks at the Heyfield Medical Centre which was a real highlight for me; I did ward rounds with doctors at the hospital there, saw nursing home patients regularly and reported back to the doctors.

“We were able to take the lead in their care with the assistance of supervisors who helped us finalise patient plans, this was invaluable; we had lots of responsibility but were still so well supervised and supported.”

The benefits of working with smaller cohorts were also appreciated by Dr Johnson. “I liked being able to get to know my colleagues well; we were on first name basis with our tutors and the staff at the rural schools as well as the doctors who supervised us and allied health staff; it was a friendly environment,” she said.

Dr Johnson said the hands-on opportunities available to rural students were a “definite bonus.”

“This was really evident to me when I did a metro-based final year placement in obstetrics and I realised how difficult it was for some students and even junior doctors to get opportunities for procedural learning, while in rural clinics we were sometimes the only students and were doing these things over and over.”

After 10 years of intense study, including completing a Masters in Bioethics as well as her internship and resident year (the latter at Wangaratta hospital), Dr Johnson is now getting to know her patients at a GP clinic in Lavington, New South Wales.

Her appointment in Lavington, a suburb of Albury, followed six months of overseas travel which provided the dedicated doctor with some much-needed respite and perspective after a decade of having her nose to the grindstone.

The new GP registrar is now confident she is where she wants be. “The hospital component of our training is an important part of the process but I was always wanting to be a GP and now that I am settling in here, it is a great reminder of what I wanted all along,” she said.

Dr Johnson said she is keen to remain working in rural and regional settings. “I just think the style of practice is nicer,” she said.

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