Beyond his professional development, Dr Will Macdonald has a memory – never to be forgotten – from his RCS year.
“I will never ever forget a 15-year-old Aboriginal boy who was sent back to a regional centre from Perth for rheumatic heart disease. He came to us and they basically said, ‘end of life…’
“I spent a lot of the year with this young fellow. His family and friends were all in country back home hundreds of km away and he stayed in the palliative ward to start with, then the kids ward at the hospital.
“We played video games with him, we took him to the circus, we took him to the footy. When some of the other guys around the RCS had breaks they would come and play computer games with him or take him for a walk or take him to the shops … just get him out of the ward.
“A couple of times he had to go to Perth and, as his family was not around, I got in the RFDS plane and went as well. By default I was sort of his spokesperson, which was a bit confronting.
“Through physiotherapy and good medical care we got him to school, his heart health improved a lot and he got to live with a foster family in the regional town. All sorts of stuff was put in place to try to improve his quality of life – which I am sure it did – but in the end, without a transplant, he was never going to survive, and he passed away the following year. It was very sad”
Bittersweet. But crossing paths with the teenager and developing a relationship over the course of the year only reinforced Will’s commitment to rural medicine.
As did his time at the Rural Clinical School, generally. At 36 years of age, he came to medicine late, having pursued other studies and medical research in Australia and overseas.
“I did RCS because I was always going to work rurally and, because I had heard you get more experience, lots more ‘hands on’ stuff, I wanted to do it. And it was certainly true; you may not be on the liver transplant team or the neurosurgical team, but you see more of the day-to-day, regular stuff.
“I think you get a much better ‘one on one’ experience with consultants. You get much better ‘hands on’ experience with procedural stuff, assisting with surgery, doing minor surgery. You get a much better experience as a day to day doctor, whether that be GP or in the hospital.
“It is not only that the people who taught us were awesome, but the other students who were out there were great and some are my best mates now. We all worked together, studied together, we had fun together; but we all backed each other up as well and it became real teamwork. I don’t think you get that if you go to the placements in the city.”
Having graduated in 2013, Will and his wife Erin moved to Albany for his intern and residency years and recently bought a five hectare property overlooking the Kalgan River. As Erin is a veterinarian, it serves as a refuge for ‘rescue animals’ as well as a small reminder of Will’s childhood growing up on a larger bush property in Bendigo, Victoria … the family homestead originally developed by his great, great grandfather.
After two years at the Albany Regional Hospital, Will took up general practice at Pioneer Health Albany.
“I really enjoy rural medicine. Some of it is frustrating because you don’t have access to the stuff that you do have in the city; but, having said that, I can ring any of the consultants at the hospital and talk to them on the phone. It is much more collegial, you are all in it together.
“It is very rewarding from the patient’s point of view, too. They would prefer it if things could be done here in Albany rather than going to Perth or Bunbury or Mandurah. They want their care done in their town and they trust you.
“That puts a lot of responsibility on you, but it also develops that relationship, that really strong bond with your patients.”