First impressions of Clinton Leahy are of a gentle, unassuming man who genuinely enjoys life. None of these attributes hint that Clinton carries on his shoulders the pressures of a very important job. For the past 15 years Clinton has worked as a General Practitioner, working remotely in different parts of outback Australia helping some of the sickest and most vulnerable people in the country.
Clinton is the Supervisor Liaison Officer with Northern Territory General Practice Education and lives on Nguiu Island about 80 km north of Darwin in the Arafura Sea where is access is by permit only.
A typical day at the only clinic on the island starts at 8am with a staff meeting. “We see the full gamut of clients from paediatrics to geriatrics and chronic diseases to emergency care. No one day is like the other.
The clientele at the clinic is almost exclusively Indigenous which adds a great interest to every consult”.
Clinton supervises two GP Registrars who work at the clinic. “I like to work in teaching practices because I get a lot of joy and personal reward being surrounded by people who are continuing to learn plus it encourages my learning. Fresh faces and enthusiasm is infectious and they bring extra expertise into the clinic which is undeniable”.
“When you work in a remote setting it is common to have students and GP Registrars in the mix so it was always a natural extension of the workplace. Beyond that I continue to do it because I enjoy it. If I didn’t I would have stopped because there are a good share of negatives. It enriches my work experience”.
When asked to describe the Supervisor landscape in remote Northern Territory he doesn’t believe conventional unity is strong. “Supervisors are not that united or they don’t have the need to unite. I don’t see that as a big problem. We have a lot of Supervisors who work in the public system and Aboriginal Medical Services so we are collegial through our own networks. What we are missing the most is the good connection with the private clinics.”
As a Registrar in the hospital system, whether it is here in Australia or overseas, as was my case in Egypt, you work in an environment where there is a wonderful support system of Supervisors and colleagues. When I moved to Trangie I took up the position of a Solo General Practitioner in both the Surgery and the MPHS. To be completely honest, at the beginning it was a little daunting, I was quickly aware that I was not afforded the benefit of having that support system of colleagues and supervisors. Notwithstanding I have been fortunate to have a great team of nurses and staff to work with and together we provide our patients with the best possible care we can.
Trangie is our home now and it is a lifestyle we have grown to cherish. Being the only doctor in town, you develop a very close relationship with your patients and them with you. I know everyone by name, I have a good relationship with my patients and know their family histories. There are approximately 1,200 people living in Trangie, but we serve between 1,500 to 1,600 patients, as some live in the surrounding area.
As my wife was born and bred in the city she was a little apprehensive about the tree change, however both she and my son are completely committed to our country life style, which has now become our home.
I was approached by the RVTS and asked to become a Registrar Supervisor shortly after finishing my training with them. I know from my own past experience and involvement in the program how valuable and worthwhile the program is and was more than happy to become an active member. It is good to be able to give back to the program.
[Dr Labib is currently supervising two GP Registrars at a clinic in Parkes, about 130km from Trangie.]
All Registrars and Supervisors meet for a week of face to face meetings and training sessions every six months. These conferences are held in alternating capital cities around the country. We also conduct teaching visits with each registrar in their own surgeries. Further we have set weekly contact over the phone and via emails. The weekly phone sessions are a valuable training tool/guidance tool and are usually of 1.5 to 2hrs duration. Of course the registrars can contact me directly at any time they need immediate guidance or assistance.
Yes, I am committed to providing training placements to medical students from both Sydney and New South Wales Universities and through the John Flynn Program. The student placements from the Sydney and NSW Universities are in four-week blocks. Students under the John Flynn program attend for a period of two weeks each year throughout their four-year placement. I strongly believe that these rural placements not only provide students with valuable training and experience, but also highlight the benefits of rural practice and give them an insight into country practice life. Many students have preconceived ideas as to what being a rural GP entails, most are pleasantly surprised as to how rewarding the job can be and I hope they will pursue such careers once their studies are completed.
I guess the biggest challenge is the physical distance between the registrars and myself. In an ideal situation it would be better to be in the same work environment during all teaching and mentoring sessions, but this is just not possible. Notwithstanding, the use of technology assists to greatly breakdown this barrier.
As a previous rural Registrar, I know only too well how valuable the RVTS program is. Having been afforded the wonderful support of my own supervisor I am only too happy to be able to provide the same support and mentoring to other registrars. Further, I enjoy teaching and medicine and this is involves both. As to student placements, I believe students have much to gain by hands-on learning and this is what they achieve during their time with me. I like to allow them involvement in all aspect of my practice, everything from immunisations to skin lesions to acute care. We have a small hospital [where Dr Labib provides acute emergency cover for patients before being transferred to Dubbo] a general practice and nursing home so I believe the students gain much from being able to work in all these areas of care.
I love medicine and thoroughly enjoy teaching medicine to others. When you enjoy what you do it isn’t difficult to stay motivated. Of course, updating skills and knowledge is another way I keep motivated.
1. As a rural GP you can encounter everything. It is like specialising in all different types of medicine.
2. If you have a hospital attached to a surgery your medical practice takes on another level. Unlike many city practices where a patient may be referred on, you often diagnose, admit, treat and then discharge the patient yourself. Whilst it may be a little daunting at first, it is medicine at the grass roots level and extremely rewarding.
3. As a GP you need to listen to and take the time to really get to know your patients. The GP patient relationship is extremely important. Sometimes a diagnosis goes beyond the physical symptoms and requires you to know what other factors are contributing to the problem. If you know your patients it makes it easier to help them.
People often think that being a GP is a mundane job as opposed to Specialty medicine, but this is not true. A GP is the first person to see a patient and as such it is a really important role. Further, general practice is just that, every day is filled with varied challenges and different fields of medicine. As a GP you are involved in so many different medical disciplines and you will encounter patients with diverse complaints.