Medicine in Rural Australia

21 Mar 2022

When you picture rural Australia in your head, this is probably what you see:

Rural Australia (probably)

Never-ending stretches of dirt, barren wastelands littered with rundown houses, fences that don't keep anything out and let everything in... at least there's clear blue skies. And maybe that's true for some extremely isolated parts of Australia, but mostly it's a misguided preconception we have as metropolitan busy-bees.

Earlier in the year, I undertook a 4-week hospital placement in Mackay, a rural Queensland town. I'd never been to a rural Australian town before, let alone live there for a while. Just like you reading this blog, I imagined some shabby outback with one building they call the "hospital", sad shrubs shrivelling in the summer sun, and barely enough water for families to drink. Maybe if I was lucky there might be electricity... wait what about Wifi? Do I have to catch my own kangaroos to cook? Okay I didn't go that far, but you get my point.

I guess it's kind of a good sign if a town has its own airport, because it means there's enough people coming in and out of it. So I landed in Mackay Airport, and took in a big whiff of the countryside. It was bloody humid and the wind was sticky. I was having mad regrets leaving my hat in my luggage. But hey, at least there's proper infrastructure here. My hopes slowly rose.

The moment my preconceptions were completely shattered was when I visited the actual hospital in Mackay. Not gonna lie, the streets leading up to the hospital were looking pretty barren. There weren't many shops, just a few private properties with big yards and corrugated iron rooftops. But when I turned left on a roundabout and pulled up to the curb, this is what I saw:

Mackay Base Hospital

I was shocked. An actual hospital with multiple levels?! WTF? Where were the makeshift tents and the children crying, crowded around one exhausted medical volunteer giving out flu vaccines? I stepped into the hospital and was greeted by a blast of aircon. Groups of medical staff milled about, a café was busy serving lines of customers needing their morning caffeine shot, and refurbished corridors welcomed me to numerous other wards of the hospital. I almost glided forward, awestruck by both the facility and my idiocy.

The rest of the placement was even more eye-opening. This rural hospital had basically the same resources and technology as any top-tier Sydney hospital I'd been to, just a few less specialties and doctors. The patients were friendly, the staff had plenty of time to teach, and even the other medical students seemed like good people. Nope, no snakes here (shout-out to P, a student I befriended on this journey).

And maybe it's because the people have less things to worry about in a rural town, but everyone had a keen and welcoming vibe that you don't really see in Sydney. I might be getting too sentimental here, but these people in Mackay aren't trying to grind and hustle every day. There's no one to see your big house or your luxury car. It doesn't really matter if you're loaded or average, because there's not much to buy. Now, I'm not saying people in Sydney are materialistic or hype-chasing, but there's a small lesson I learnt from my placement. It's good to hustle and try to make the most of your life, 100%, but you should also take a step back sometimes to enjoy the process and remember why you're hustling. Think about your family, your friends, your hobbies. Don't forget what's important to you.

The rural life is a bit too slow-paced for what I want to achieve in my early medical career. As a young gun in my 20s, Sydney seems like a good balance between working hard and playing hard. But after this experience, I can't rule out rural medicine as an option in the future. Hopefully this blog will help you throw away your preconceptions of what rural Australia is like. Maybe you'll even take a trip to Mackay, and bask in its glory. You'll see what I mean.

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