Five minutes with Dr John Hall, Ochre's new DMS

By , Hedgie Gundry , Melinda McCarthy published on 07/04/2020 Rural Generalism, Recruitment, COVID-19,

Ochre Health Group’s new Director of Medical Services, Dr John Hall, talks to us about his whirlwind first few months at Ochre, how he embarked on his accomplished career as a rural generalist GP and why he believes rural generalism is 'the new black' across the medicine world. He also shares some heartfelt and valuable advice for GPs considering a career in rural Australia.

You joined Ochre Health Group in January of this year—how have your first few months been? 

It’s certainly been a whirlwind since I joined Ochre only a few months ago. And now with the current coronavirus pandemic affecting our entire public health system, we are working extremely hard with all of our GPs to support them through this crisis.

Did you welcome the Federal Government's $1.1 billion healthcare package?

Absolutely. There's no doubt expanding access to telehealth for all Australians in these unprecedented times will greatly help to reduce the spread of coronavirus - and will help to save lives. Slowing down COVID-19 relies on everyone limiting their travel and maintaining stringent physical distancing wherever they can. Ochre's GPs are now advising patients whether their particular health concerns can be dealt with via a telehealth consultation, or whether they still need to come into their practice.

The additional incentive payments to general practices to enable them to stay open for emergency consultations where necessary were also welcomed.  As you can imagine, the Ochre Recruitment team has been working tirelessly with doctors who have availability to assist with general practice needs in their local areas and within their state.

Why do you think Ochre has been so successful over the last 20 years?

From my first meeting with Ochre co-founders Ross and Hamish, I was impressed by their story, both setting up as rural generalists in Bourke and their passion and drive to support rural Australia. This dedication has led to the organic growth of a recruitment and healthcare company providing an essential medical workforce in rural and remote Australia for the best part of 20 years.

Ochre’s model of taking hospital contracts and also supporting general practice is unique and the rest of Australia has a lot to learn from what the team has achieved in supporting rural communities. Ochre measures its health outcomes and creates an environment where everyone knows that we're about quality and providing good services. Our business model has a strong ethical base that also supports the ongoing viability of our general practices across the country.

Take us back to your early years and how you first chose a career in medicine.

From a young age, I was interested in the concept of medicine, but I never really thought it would be something I’d end up doing. I had a strong interest in the sciences, and biological sciences in particular, and first completed a science degree majoring in biochemistry and human genetics. I also completed a research degree before stepping into medicine. My interest in biological sciences ultimately laid the foundations for my medical career. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What inspired you to work in rural Australia?

During my primary school years, my Dad took a new job in the country town of Inglewood in Queensland. As a child, I loved the community atmosphere and the carefree lifestyle, and the freedom I had of being able to ride around town and go to the local pool. These formative years and fond memories brought my love of rural Australia, medicine and general practice together and drove my desire to work rurally from my early days as a medical student.

Where was your first job?

My first job was as a rural GP in a town called Stanthorpe in South West Queensland. It lived up to all the expectations I had of working in the country, providing a fantastic, diverse and interesting array of medicine that I had not experienced in my early days working as a junior doctor in major regional centres. My first foray into proper rural general practice did not disappoint. I was busy as a full-time hospital doctor in a medium-sized hospital, working across the gamut of GP obstetrics from emergency care and surgery, to internal medicine and outpatient work. I also moved into some general practice work in the town over time. This is still one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever done.

Dr John Hall, Director of Medical Services Ochre Health

What advice would you give currently to GPs who are interested in pursuing Rural Generalism? How do they know if it’s right for them?

If you love everything about medicine and enjoy all the different disciplines, then you’ve got a generalist mindset. Generalism is the new black in medicine across the world. There's been a resurgence in the support and recognition for general doctors who work across disciplines as they offer so much value to rural and remote communities where there isn't enough population to support all the different subspecialties.

Furthermore, this type of work is so interesting and fulfilling. You are challenged on so many different levels. As I said before, working in a rural hospital was one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. A day in the life of a rural generalist might involve getting up in the morning to do a caesar, managing a trauma case in emergency at midday, going back to your clinic and seeing someone struggling with depression in the afternoon, and then going back up to the hospital, and managing someone with pneumonia or complex diabetes in the evening.

You don't get that in any other specialty. General practice is at the heart of rural generalism and in itself is an amazingly rewarding job with diversity and range of exposure to undifferentiated illness and complex pathology. But when you add on top of that the access to procedural work, being able to use your hands and being able to do some surgery, this creates another layer of interest, excitement and enjoyment in the workplace.  

Why do you personally love it so much?

It never loses its gloss. This work is continually fulfilling and being involved in things like bringing new life into the world and helping women and families through these processes is exquisitely rewarding. Each case is new and fresh, but also reflects the amazing privilege we are given to be allowed into people's lives at some of the most poignant times, around birth and even death. Some of my most memorable experiences have been around palliative care and looking after people through the dying process. When you've been working in a rural town for a while, you get to know your patients really well. In many cases, they become your friends as well as your patients, which adds another layer to the personal impact this work has.

In addition to your role at Ochre Health Group, are you still practising as a GP?

Yes, absolutely. I've got my advanced diploma in obstetrics and to keep this current, I have to carry out a certain number of births and deliveries. I am passionate about supporting locum services and Ochre Recruitment is an incredible source all around rural Australia. I’ve been a locum myself on and off for the last four years and I know the importance of locums for my rural colleagues. Many of the rural health facilities wouldn't survive without access to locums as they provide relief to local doctors on the ground who would otherwise burn out. Even better, if locums have a good experience, they are more likely to put down roots and stay permanently in some of these towns that so desperately need them.

Thank you so much John for your insights and welcome to the team. We’re lucky to have you on board.

We look forward to continuing our conversation with our new Director of Medical Services over the coming weeks.

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