The Rural Clinical School of WA

Dr Steph Breen

GP Obstetrician, Port Hedland

You have a lot more freedom, a lot more personal contact with doctors and the rest of the staff in the hospital; it becomes a so much more personal experience than it is in the city. There is a lot more opportunity for practical, hands on learning if you want it.

Yes, of course. Have done, many times.

Dr Steph Breen’s answer was both instantaneous and emphatic. The question: “Would you recommend RCS to medical students?”

She was among the 2007 ‘class’ of seven young women who did their RCS year in the Pilbara towns of Port Hedland and Karratha – four have returned to work in the north-west,  including Steph, who found the experience personally and professionally fulfilling, while two of the others are rural GPs elsewhere.

Steph Breen“You have a lot more freedom, a lot more personal contact with doctors and the rest of the staff in the hospital; it becomes a so much more personal experience than it is in the city,” she says. 

“There is a lot more opportunity for practical, ‘hands-on’ learning if you want it.

“I guess like any medical student training you have to use initiative and be pro-active in your learning, but you have the opportunity to do that across a broad field of clinical experiences. Personally that’s how I find I learn best, so it worked for me; I learn from clinical experiences rather than tutes and text books, so it was a beneficial style of learning for me.

“There are just a lot more options in the country, especially true for somewhere like Hedland which is a regional centre, so we have specialists and a lot of visiting specialists and a bigger hospital than some of the smaller rural sites."

“So I liked that because I liked the autonomy that comes with RCS as well, you have a bit more freedom as a student to direct your own learning … and just socially, we had a fantastic time. 

“I formed connections with the Pilbara that brought me back here to work again and again. I already had a sentimental attachment to the Pilbara by being born here, and that was just cemented by really enjoying the work and the lifestyle.

“I still work with a lot of the doctors who were my teachers back in RCS days, so I guess if I had not had such a positive experience at the hospital I would not have wanted to come back like I did.”

Steph may have been born in Port Hedland, the export gateway for Western Australia’s massive iron ore industry, but she grew up in Mandurah, the seaside centre south of Perth … and it was there, via her ‘family doctor’ that her interest in medicine formed.

Veteran GP Frank Jones, currently the President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, became her mentor.

“Frank Jones was definitely one of the first people to inspire me to do medicine, and he continues to be an inspiration for his dedication to general practice,” she says.

“Then there are lots of local doctors here who have been wonderful, one in particular was here when I was a med student and is still here, Dr Vafa Naderi. He is the Educational Officer at the Hedland Health Campus. He was at the old hospital as well, and he is just a really wonderful, committed GP Anaesthetist who has been here for a long time.

“I really admire how he practises and how he goes about his business, and I will miss him the most when I go to Broome at end of 2016.”

Steph did her internship in the city, although it included a rotation to Port Hedland as a surgical intern. She met her future husband during the rotation, returned to Perth for her residency, and then moved back to Port Hedland in 2012 to do her GP training.

Married in 2013, she and her husband became proud parents for the first time in March 2015, signalling a 12 month break from the profession for her. However, she is now back enjoying the diversity of rural medicine.

“What I like about my job here is that every day I do something different.

“On a Monday I might be in theatre all day assisting one of the surgeons; then probably the majority of my shifts are working on the maternity ward doing obstetrics and gynaecology, which involves clinics and ward work. I also work in the emergency department once or twice a fortnight, and after hours or in between all that, I look after the residents of the nursing home.

“So I do everything from delivering babies to palliative care … and everything in between.”

Steph’s advocacy for RCS applies even if students have no intention of working in rural and remote medicine, believing it provides them with an opportunity to understand and appreciate the situation for patients so far removed from major cities.

For herself, though, there are no plans to leave the region and the job she loves.

“The North West is really another world away from the South West, and for lots of us, it is hard to leave once you start working up here.”



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Last updated:
Wednesday, 7 December, 2016 8:52 PM