“We were really lucky; we had incredible teachers up here … paediatrics, obstetrics, GP … just exceptional teachers who loved it here and who were really keen to teach.”
Dr Jane McCulloch’s Rural Clinical School year laid the foundations for her career path.
Jane McCullochJane, who was raised in the hills above Perth, was seemingly destined to go to Derby. Having completed the Aboriginal health options in her early years of medicine, she found the prospect of going there for her RCS year virtually irresistible.
“I had completed my first couple of years at med school and had done all the Aboriginal health options and really enjoyed them,” she says.
“When the RCS year came up it sounded like an adventure and a good learning opportunity.
“You get an experience that you don’t necessarily get in the city. Everything is integrated; you sort of become part of a team so you can make a difference in what you are doing.
“It fitted well with my interest in Aboriginal health, and Derby seemed like the peak of the sites in that respect – you potentially saw the greatest percentage of Aboriginal patients and did outreach work as well - a lot of community work, real remote stuff.”
So it was – Jane was hooked. After graduating in 2009 and doing her internship and some work in the city, punctuated with stints of a couple of months each year in remote towns, she made her way to Derby via Broome.
It has rewarded her professionally and personally.
“Probably the most common day would be working in our clinic. We have a walk-in clinic and it gets busy quickly,” she says.
“People wait to see us, and can sometimes wait quite a few hours. A lot of what we see is standard GP stuff, but there are a significant proportion of our patients who have quite complex medical issues. It is pretty rare to get someone with one thing going on and nothing else. Remoteness and other socioeconomic factors add to this complexity.
“There are also days where I do all child health, a day where I run an adolescent clinic – and a lot of those young people are from pretty disadvantaged backgrounds and are often living fairly independently by the age of 12 or 13. So providing them with health care has all its own challenges.
“And then, once a fortnight, I get in a tiny plane and fly to one of the communities up the Gibb River Road, usually Kupungarri where we consult for a day.”
Working remote, though, does not mean working alone. Apart from colleagues at the Derby Hospital, Derby Aboriginal Health Service and the Royal Flying Doctor, Jane also accesses a regular team of specialist advisers by telephone, telehealth and email.
“There are always people to talk to and get advice. When I was a young registrar doing those remote trips I was well supported – there was always someone on the end of the telephone. I still use it – sometimes to just bat around ideas because I am 300 kilometres away and a doctor will not be coming back for a fortnight."
“Overall, I work with really fantastic people – staff and patients – and it feels like you are doing something that needs to be done. If you do it well it can make a difference.”
Asked if there were any ‘big’ events or situations that stayed in her memory in her time at the Derby Aboriginal Health Service, she says: “It is little wins that stay with you most.”
“Like getting yelled at as you walk down the street, ‘Hey Dr Jane, I haven’t had a smoke for five weeks.’ Or when you get a young person who starts talking about their aspirations, or they are turning up at school every day or doing something that has been a real challenge for them. That’s satisfying.
Jane can sometimes miss her family and friends in Perth, but says they are just a few hours away by jet. And, on the flipside, she revels in the majestic outdoors of the Kimberley region of Western Australia – camping and fishing in some of the world’s greatest natural scenery.
And within that natural wonder is the river – the Fitzroy River with its mystical magnetism.
“They say if you swim in the Fitzroy River you are destined to always come back. I not only swam in it, I drank from it … made myself sick but I know I’ll always return!” she laughs.