A Rural GP: Flying High

By , Hedgie Gundry published on 04/08/2021 Ochre Recruitment, Rural Generalism,

One of Ochre Recruitment's loyalty program highlights is the Golden Gratitude Award, where each quarter, our consultants nominate one outstanding Ochre GP. Not only do we celebrate and reward their remarkable achievements, but we also donate $1,000 to a deserving individual or charity of their choice.

This quarter we are delighted to celebrate Dr Karen O'Brien, one of our dedicated rural generalist GPs currently locuming at the Ochre Medical Centre in Walgett in Western NSW. Karen is donating her $1,000 to her two-year-old nephew Daniel born with Down's syndrome.  

Firstly congratulations on winning our latest Golden Gratitude Award and for the outstanding work you're doing in Western NSW for Ochre Health. Tell us a bit about your medical training and your time in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)?

I joined the RAAF during my medical degree and was sponsored and paid while I was a student. After I finished, I had to complete two years of general civilian work, including my intern year and another year in hospital. I then worked for four years in the RAAF, including my officer training, and I worked in Townsville for most of that time.  

The RAAF was interesting in terms of my officer training and developing my management and leadership skills. I was a GP registrar, and most of my work was office-based general practice work, but I'd also fly to the Solomon Islands now and again to pick up Australian civilian patients. We were also trained to rescue people by jumping out of helicopters and all those types of drills. So it was pretty exciting at times.

What made you come back to Victoria and pursue a Rural Generalist career?

I was based in Laverton for the last six months of my time in the RAAF, eventually moving out into general practice. By that stage, my partner and I had bought a rural property in the Central Highlands in my home state of Victoria, halfway between Melbourne and Bendigo. We were heading towards a rural lifestyle on acres. My son was one when we moved here, and he's just turned 17. We love it. We have a couple of goats, four horses and a lot of kangaroos. Our nearest town is about 15 minutes away.

During my medical degree, I completed a general practice placement in a medical centre attached to a small rural hospital in the Riverland in South Australia. So I think this is where my initial interest in Rural Generalism all started. And then my experience in Townsville had a very country town feel to it, which I loved. 

You've locumed in many rural and remote Australian locations, including within several Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS). What is it you love most about locuming in places like these?

I've worked in Aurukan at Cape York, Mount Isa and Charleville in Queensland, Mallacoota and Halls Gap in Victoria and Tailem Bend in South Australia. And now Walgett in Western NSW. It's always amazing to see different parts of Australia. There are some beautiful places, and I love the peace and quiet. The local communities are always pleased to see us, and the staff in most areas I go to are just gorgeous as well. They can make do with what they've got and not get too stressed for the most part. It just works. There's a huge community feel in rural areas and especially in AMS. Everyone genuinely cares about patient outcomes. 

Why should medical students explore becoming a Rural Generalist? What advice would you give?

In my opinion, the main benefit of being a rural generalist is really interesting medicine. You go on a health journey with your patients. You get to know them – their story, background, and medical history-making general practice more effective and rewarding. This connection is really lovely and not something easily achieved in metropolitan practice.

It also helps if you are interested in emergencies because there's no hospital right around the corner. Or, in the case of a VMO, you are the hospital around the corner. So that's the exciting part of rural general practice. If your patients have to come to the hospital, you already know their story, which improves the level of care immensely. By contrast, in metropolitan practice, there's an expectation from patients that you will just refer them to a specialist – and that's often where your relationship ends. 

And what advice would you give to metropolitan GPS thinking of locuming in rural areas?

Sometimes it can be a little bit scary. You might think you don't have the emergency skills or haven't done a procedure for such a long time. But the key is just going and getting some practice. If you know how to do basic life support, you can complete the courses required for these locums and ask for help at appropriate times. Where I am now in the Western NSW Local Health District, the technology support systems are incredible. Even if you're dealing with a cardiac arrest that seems to be going pear-shaped, the technology we use now allows specialists to see what you're doing in real-time and assist you right then and there. It's such a fantastic use of technology. 

So finally, tell us about your little nephew and why you've nominated him for your $1,000 award?

2 year old Daniel Hughes

My nephew Daniel is one of a pair of twins who've just turned two. He was born with Down's syndrome and is just a gorgeous little fellow. I'm one of five siblings, and sadly my brother Rob passed away last year. So when I found out about this award, I immediately thought of my sister Sarah, Daniel's mum. Our brother was very close to Sarah's children, so I'm giving this award to Sarah on my brother's behalf as he no longer has a chance to help where he can. It's my way of connecting us all. Sarah will now be able to get some additional care for Daniel or buy a piece of equipment to make his physical development better. Or any one of those things my brother would have done for her and his nephew.

The photo you sent us of Daniel is so cute. Where was it taken?

We were down at the beach where my brother was heavily involved in lifesaving for 25-plus years. He was posthumously awarded a Victorian Lifesaving Life Membership. It was the 12-month anniversary of his death and the scattering of his ashes. Daniel was sitting with me. I thought he was smiling at me at one point, but he was smiling at the reflection of himself in my sunglasses. So we spent hours taking pictures! He's a cracker. 

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Karen. And thank you again for all your dedication and hard work with Ochre Health. 


If you'd like to learn more about our loyalty program please click here.

For more information about our GP VMO locum opportunities in Western NSW, take a tour through our location pages. Alternatively, call Paul Campbell on 0457 004 414  or email [email protected]


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