When you talk to Anna Robson you feel that her year of Rural Clinical School was pre-destined … as is her future in medicine.
She grew up in the Kimberley, the Pilbara and the wheatbelt – with most of that time in Western Australia’s north. Then, in her first career as a social worker, she returned there for several years before transitioning to medicine as a self-confessed “late starter.”
And so, when RCS came along in 2007 – the first year that the University of Notre Dame was involved in the program – Anna needed no urging to join … for two reasons.
“Having come from an ‘arts based’ thinking, I found the first two years of medicine were more ‘science based’ and so, in a way, there was a lot of mental gymnastics,” she says.
“I think if I had spent the year in Perth I would have found it pretty unengaging – there was interesting learning in those first years, but it didn’t engage me as much as RCS did, and there was just a lovely affirmation that I had made the right choice.
“And then we had fantastic mentors like Christine Jeffries-Stokes, Murali Narayanan, Andrew and Clare Kirk, Barney McCallum and others from whom I learnt a great deal. Christine and Narayanan were influential in my choice to do paediatrics, and of the 10 students in Kalgoorlie two others have also done paeds.
“The gains from that year were very evident when we came back to Perth and our peers; we were miles ahead in our clinical experience.
“In RCS there are so many more opportunities to learn if you want to take them. You are much more involved and hands on rather than standing behind the senior registrar, the registrar, the resident and the other medical students, which is the reality in Perth.
Anna’s other affirmation from RCS was more personal and enduring; it was about the people and the lives they live in rural and remote Western Australia.
“There was a sense of rightness of place, I guess, in just being there. There was no particular event; it was just that I suppose going and doing RFDS clinics out in community … and the patients that came in … these were much more my people.
“My extended family has been on stations and in remote areas for generations and I feel both an affinity for, and an understanding of, people who live in that context. I just enjoy the people from those areas and, of course, my interest in Aboriginal child health.”
Anna completed her undergraduate studies in 2008, interned at Royal Perth Hospital (including a surgical term in Port Hedland) and then joined Princess Margaret Hospital where she is now the Senior Paediatric Registrar in the Rural Paediatric Service.
Her work involves regular outreach clinics in rural and remote WA – Wiluna, Warburton in the central desert, Merredin in the eastern wheatbelt and offshore on Cocos and Christmas Islands.
In 2016, as the Paul Carman Fellow, she continued her rural paediatric learning with the legendary Dr Rex Henderson, who has been awarded an Order of Australia for his long-time commitment to the people of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands.
Another part of the fellowship has taken Anna to Townsville, Queensland, to complete a Masters of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
“When I was a student I swore I would never do any public health related stuff, but it becomes much more apparent how very relevant that is – particularly in rural practice – when you are out in the real world.”
Anna sees a return to Western Australia’s north – the Pilbara or Kimberley regions – as her long term future when her formal learning is completed, always mindful of the significant paediatric skills required in rural and remote settings.
For those at the start of their medical careers she recommends an RCS year in the bush.
“It’s a long journey in medicine to get to where you are going to go – not just doing undergraduate medicine, but the training you subsequently go on to do. For many, particularly if they have not had a lot of rural exposure before and even if they don’t go back to the bush, it is quite transformational.
“It is important to go with an open heart and an open mind – be quick to listen and slow to judge. Realise the ‘lived reality’ of others.
“To do good medicine requires much of that, because you can be the most skilled person clinically in the world, but if you can’t understand the context in which the medicine happens the appropriateness of your interventions would be questionable.”