Robyn McIntyre is a typical example of the success of the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia in attracting doctors to practice rural and remote medicine – albeit, Robyn’s journey to medicine and Esperance is far from typical.
It involves music, love, farming and family – and an inspiring mentor.
“We had – and have – a marvellous supervisor down here who is just one of those very, very clever and dedicated teachers,” she says.
“His name is Donald Howarth, and he is able to give the RCS students all year – he will have them in the coffee shop at 7 o’clock every morning giving tutorials on all sorts of medical topics, both standard and bizarre!
“That was experience you would value the rest of your life.
“Evidence is now showing the benefit of that. We already have two registrars coming back who went through RCS – that is the proof of the pudding right there; that is what RCS is doing for Esperance, a rural town on the south coast of Australia.”
But let’s rewind … to the days before Robyn’s medical studies and RCS, to the bright young music teacher who had made her way from Canberra to Perth and who was lured to Esperance by friends on the pretext of a holiday, but the reality of meeting a local farmer.
It was a successful ruse and Robyn and Alistair McIntyre married, soon had a young boy and girl and, when she was 40, decided she should pursue medicine.
“We both decided I was going to go back and embark on my first love which was medicine. So that’s what I did when we were actually living here with two little kids. It was really hard; I had a husband at home on the farm and he would have probably liked me to stay and help him out, but off I went to Perth.
“However, at every opportunity I had to do any of the learning in Esperance I was allowed to do so, and that was really great.”
When it came to her RCS year, Robyn found what others have.
“Here you certainly get your hands on a lot more and are given that responsibility a bit earlier; whereas I know when I was in Perth, I was just one of a number of students who hover around the consultant and just listen.
“The GPs run the hospital down here, so if a patient went to hospital you would go and see them in hospital and then see them out of hospital – there is no loss of care when the patient has to be admitted.
“You have them the whole time and as a student you get to see them all year, and I think the RCS actually encourages that chronic case management for students so they can follow them up over the whole year.”
Apart from the professional fulfilment Robyn has found in Esperance, for the young woman from Canberra who once thought, “country, why would you?”, she now talks of the greater sense of community involvement.
“It is so easy to get involved in things you never would have thought of in the city – I joined the local theatre, I played hockey which I had never done before.
“You become part of a community so quickly; that struck me very early. I just love being part of a local community where, not only am I a doctor, but I get involved in all that side of it as well.”
Footnote: As we were talking, Robyn was painting the interior of the new practice she and others were opening … among them, Donald Howarth.