When general surgeon Laurie Webber reflects on his year of Rural Clinical School – Geraldton, 2005 – he sees an intensive, self directed learning program that accelerated his career.
It was not simply the structured teaching and tutorials, but the opportunity to participate with practical, hands on experience and be much more than an observer of others at work.
“We basically had unlimited access to working in the Emergency Department, the wards and theatres at Geraldton Hospital,” he says.
“I think for the first time, I became useful as a medical student and I was probably partly functioning as a junior doctor in a hospital which, at that time, had few junior doctors.
“So once you are given that opportunity to step up, and if you take that and work hard, when I came back to be a 6th year student I found I was a bit ahead of the cohort of people who probably hadn’t had those kind of experiences. It’s a distinct advantage.
“I spent an enormous amount of time in the hospital and I think it really was probably the point where I got serious about medicine and jump-started my career. I think I had a reasonably rapid career progression and I think that could be attributed to my time at the RCS.”
Laurie’s RCS year also heralded more than his professional advancement; it left him with an indelible memory at the heart of medicine – diagnosing a patient with recurrent breast cancer.
“It was a very emotional experience; I still think about that being the first time it really affected me. There were some very moving experiences…”
Laurie followed two uncles – a GP and a paediatric gastroenterologist – into medicine, ultimately choosing surgery as his career choice over emergency medicine and, in doing his specialist training, deliberately included a wide spread of experience in rural and regional areas.
“For my five years of surgical training I did three rural terms – one in Broome, one in Albany and one in Darwin – so I spent nearly 30 percent of my specialist training in the bush.
“That diversity was intentional. I had always thought I would finish practising in the bush to some degree and, as a result, you need a broader skill set; so I sought that kind of training. You could argue that you could spend a lot of time training in a metropolitan area and get a broad set of skills and go to the country, but I think jobs like Darwin really prepare you for everything.”
Apart from a one-in-three on-call commitment supported by a trainee registrar, Laurie’s workload splits around 30 percent endoscopy, 30 percent emergency and elective operating and 30 percent clinic, with the rest of his time taken in administrative work, surgical teaching lessons and academic meetings with the Radiology Department.
“My operating lists are very varied in terms of the case load; we do the full spectrum of general surgical operations.
“I have a registrar with me for most of my lists so there is a good opportunity to teach them. As well, we have such a busy unit that the resident and intern are also involved in the operative case load as well as the ward work.