RCS started as year of adventure for Emma Griffiths but ended in setting her on a course to “make a difference” at two levels for people wracked with chronic disease.
Her time at Karratha in 2006 left an indelible imprint; firstly, her awe of the ability of GPs to manage their patients’ healthcare and, secondly, on a trip to Roebourne she witnessed the disparity of Aboriginal health. It is a disparity she now seeks to rectify through a combination of public health policy and face to face treatment.
“When I bring together the big picture and the small picture I feel like I can actually make a difference,” she says.
“The big picture is doing the research, developing policies and implementing change, working in change management, evaluating service delivery; but, I think I couldn’t do that part if I was not still seeing patients.
“I never realised the role that public health medicine could have in the country, but I had definitely seen how amazing all the generalists were in rural GP. So for me the balance is seeing people and reminding myself why it’s important and then working at what I see as the higher level to bring about change.
“It took me going away to do my Masters of Public Health and Tropical Medicine to see how necessary that was, and how much it appealed to me to be able to bring public health or big picture medicine into the region and mix that with clinical care.
“That’s where I really found a niche.”
Rural Clinical School, the Prevocational General Practice Placement Program, a Masters degree in Public Health and series of jobs that continue to give her ‘hands on’ experience with the problem, reveal a career path which has tracked her commitment to the cause, especially in relation to renal disease.
“I would never have known that the opportunities to do the kind of work I am doing existed without having taken up the opportunities to try at different points – Rural Clinical School, PGPPP, a community residency at Kimberley Population Health Unit…
“Because I am based in Broome I fly out there a week a month, those are my clinical weeks. When I am not actively on outreach I spend part of my time on call for all the renal patients of the region. When I am not doing my on call work for renal, I work in public health in renal medicine including several research projects. When I am not doing any of that I look after medical students with the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia, and when I am not doing that I am doing a PhD."
As Emma has found, necessity is the mother of innovation and in 2013 she won the GPET/Ochre Health Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Training Award for her development of software for an e-health medical record system.
“It has really added a lot to our capacity to care for people, she says.
“When I started working with the Kimberley Satellite Dialysis Unit we were still on a paper-based system, but now when I am consulting for patients I can see the files of all our patients across the region. Without this electronic medical record system we would not be able to offer the same level of support to people residing in remote locations.
“What I took from RCS, in terms of what made the most impression on me, was the breadth of experience and knowledge … learning from generalists is a really amazing opportunity to see how everything comes together.
“It really consolidated the clinical experience of medical school for me.
“In the process, I developed a real appreciation for rural GPs – I was just amazed by what they did, because Karratha as a site then, there were GP obstetricians, GP anaesthetists, GP surgeons, GP outreach – very little in the way of local specialist cover. It was not something I had any idea existed until then.
“It was a complete revelation to me how everything was managed locally by the GPs."