“It is such a good experience. I would say you should come up with reasons why you shouldn’t go rather than why you should go – to be honest, it should be a ‘given’ that you should do it.”
Dr Paul Ricciardo is not in the business of giving advice to medical students contemplating a Rural Clinical School year, but he believes the benefits are too good to pass up.
Paul did his year in 2006, following in the footsteps of his sister, Bernadette, who was among the first intake following the pilot year of the RCS program. Particularly, he had the advantage of her experience when it came to making his decision and, broadly, when it came to medicine, he was maintaining a family tradition – Paul’s father and four of his siblings all work in the profession, from general practice to maxillofacial surgery to orthopaedic surgery to dermatology and pathology.
“My sister had done her RCS year in Kalgoorlie and she had a great time,” he says.
“With two of my friends we specifically applied hoping to go to Esperance, and being a smaller group, three med students, we thought we would get a huge amount of exposure because you don’t have to compete with anyone else.
“As far as your practical skills, I got a huge amount by being in the country compared to the city. You see whatever comes through the door, because you are not allocated to a specific area like emergency or surgery – you are just doing whatever comes through, so it is a broader exposure to all aspects of medicine.”
Paul also found that the sheer fact of being in a small town brought with it another advantage in his professional development.
“Because it was a small town, and the house we were living in was literally a 30-second walk from the hospital, you would often go back after hours just to see or do something interesting. So if something interesting came through emergency on a Saturday night, the doctor would give you a buzz and you would just shoot down and see what is going on…
“That’s something you would never do in the city – you know, you would have to spend 30 minutes in traffic just getting there.”
Paul’s RCS year was also the start of his interest in anaesthetics – an interest that has seen him complete his specialist training in January 2016 ahead of returning to live in Esperance with his wife and young children, Luca and Francesca, while completing his Fellowship in Rural and Remote Medicine.
He credits his interest in the specialty to the respected veteran practitioner in the town, Dr Donald Howarth.
“He is the best doctor I have ever worked under and he was a massive inspiration – he was the mentor and he made me very interested in anaesthetics.
“It is a great specialty and I really enjoy it, but Esperance is too small a town to just work as an anaesthetist ,so one of the things that enticed me back was the type of work I could do here … a combination of general practice, emergency and anaesthetics."
“It is so varied, there’s not really a typical day because it depends if I am working in GP or ED or anaesthetics.”
Paul also finds immense satisfaction in the relationship that rural medicine fosters with patients; a relationship that gives life to the phrase ‘family doctor.’
“From a career point of view, it is extremely satisfying because you have such a variety of work and you are definitely appreciated a lot more in a rural area than you are in the city ... and I guess the way to highlight that is that, in the city, most people don’t want the GP to be someone they know socially; whereas my experience here is that most people kind of take literally the term ‘family doctor’, and literally want the doctor to be someone who knows their family.
“So there is this integration within the community, which I really love.”