Dr Kath Comparti has strong feelings about the value of the RCS year – to the student and the state.
“We should have a system more like teachers and police, so that there is almost a mandatory time that you have to do in an area of need or a country area outside of Perth,” she says.
“It might be one or two years service, and by doing that, you not only fill the need and the gaps we have in country health care in Western Australia, but you also encourage a whole bunch of people who have never thought to go into a country area to have a look at it and consider it as a career.”
Kath’s feelings stem not only from her own RCS experience, but her days growing up in Donnybrook and Bunbury with a father who was country GP and a mother who was a nurse. Yet her path to medicine was not determined until the final years of secondary school when her interest in the human body and human biology took hold.
On to med school, she did her RCS year in 2008 in the Wheatbelt town of Narrogin.
"From first to third years, I struggled a lot with the classroom style of teaching/learning. In the subsequent 3 years, it was more "hands-on" learning. The Rural Clinical School curriculum is less fragmented, more realistic in terms of Rural GP and day-to-day content. This cemented my desire to work in the country and practice rural medicine, with all the variety it
Coming to RCS I got much more experience than my friends who stayed in the city.
“Whereas in the city the curriculum is broken up into 4-5 rotations of Obstetrics, General Practice (mostly non-procedural), Emergency Medicine, etc, in Rural Clinical School you see anything and everything that walks through the door. In any day I might deliver a baby, provide palliative care, suture a head laceration and treat child with an ear infection.
“I think what you can learn and develop over that long time is invaluable. I got to be involved in a lot more because the people here knew me, I developed relationships and worked hard to fit in and belong.
What Kath also took from that RCS year was an appreciation of the authentic nature of country life – the community support she received, convinced her that she would return after graduating.
And she did. To Narrogin, where a day in her life begins on the 50 hectare farm she has bought.
After feeding her dog and taking it for a ride around the property on her quad bike, by 8.20am Kath is at the local hospital doing a ward round – today, one obstetric and a few general patients. Then, onto surgery, lunch and a walk downtown to check mail and so on, before returning to surgery – consultations and a skin cancer removal on this afternoon. Then, as we talk just before 6.00pm, she is leaving the local nursing home after seeing a patient who has become unwell.
“I love what I am doing. I get enjoyment and satisfaction from seeing the patients and helping people out. It is quite fulfilling and is a great sense of purpose in life – I am needed and can make a difference in people’s lives.
“There is that old saying, ‘If you like what you do, you never work a day in your life.’”
In a time when ‘work-life balance’ is oft talked about, and only sometimes achieved, Kath believes that the close-knit nature of rural and regional communities helps absorb the demands of being ‘the local GP’.
She had seen it with her parents and their community involvements, and that pattern of life has caste her future.
“I always thought it was great that mum and dad were part of the community. As a country doctor people relied on him; he was on call a fair bit and I remember orderlies coming to the tennis club to pick him up and take him to the hospital in those days before pagers and mobile phones.
“As well, mum really got involved in local government, working towards having a better place to live. That was rural family life for me and is what I want for myself and any kids in the future.”
Kath has picked up the family baton and, apart from her sporting pursuits, immerses herself in community activities/events and campaigning to improve available health services, while also mentoring RCS students who come to Narrogin.
And then there is the perennial attribute of rural and remote medicine – the continuity of patient care which she has seen in her parents’ time, her RCS year, and now in her own practice.
“I love the continuity of care in the family medicine practice – obstetrics is the procedural side of things, but from pregnancy to delivering the baby to when the baby grows up, it is just a joy to be involved.”