Locuming with Heart

By , Hedgie Gundry published on 12/05/2021 Ochre Recruitment, Locum work,

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. Oswell Viki, one of our longest-standing remote locum GPs who has worked tirelessly to help set up our new Ochre Health Walgett medical centre. He is donating his $1,000 to his son, who is studying to become an anatomical pathologist at the Royal College of Pathologists.

Firstly congratulations on winning our latest Golden Gratitude Award and for the remarkable work you're doing in Western NSW for Ochre Health. Tell us a bit about where you grew up, where you studied, and what inspired you to focus on rural generalist work?

I was born in South Africa in a small town called King William's Town in the Eastern Cape. We moved to Zimbabwe when I was eight years old when my father secured a new job. After finishing school, I studied medicine at the Godfrey Hopkins School of Medicine, which is part of the University of Zimbabwe, and graduated in 1992. 

I was inspired to pursue general practice, and more specifically rural general practice, by some Canadian and American doctors I met during my studies. We were required to do rural placements as part of our medical training and when I met these doctors, I was so impressed by the vast difference they were making in very remote places where otherwise people would have no access to doctors or any health facility.

The majority of locally trained Zimbabwean doctors were not keen to work in these rural areas, but I loved it. The satisfaction from offering a service and making a difference to somebody's life, no matter how small, was hugely inspiring for me. I still feel the same when I pursue my rural practice here in Australia.

So what prompted you to come to Australia?

When I was in school, there was an exchange program where some of our teachers would come from the UK and Australia. Our Australian teachers would tell us inspiring stories of their home country, and at the same time, we were watching Skippy the Kangaroo and Neighbours on TV when we went home. So I became curious and knew one day I'd like to go.

But in the end, settling in Australia was mainly by accident. I was on my way to Ireland, initially intending to pursue a surgical career. I had a placement in Dublin when a friend of mine living in Tasmania asked me to visit for a few months. And that was 17 years ago. I then moved to South Australia with my family in 2006. 

Did your experience helping rural communities in Zimbabwe motivate you to choose remote locums here in Australia? 

Yes absolutely. When I first went to do my first locums at Doomadgee and Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, for example, I had read lots of negative things about these places. But I thought I'll go there and find out for myself. And my impression was a little bit different. Perhaps I was expecting the worse. But I just saw a beautiful, deprived community that needed help and where I could make a difference. 

I keep going back to some of the same places because I've made some good connections with the local community and the hospital and clinic staff. And I know what to expect. But I'd still love to see and go to other places, to be honest, as I'm a tiny bit curious. I've locumed in almost every Australian state but haven't locumed in the Northern Territory or the ACT. So those are in my sights at the moment. 

What's been your favourite locum experience? 

It would have to be Cunnamulla in South West Queensland. I spent a year there and also did three weeks on, six weeks off up until 2018. In my six weeks off, I would go wherever I wanted to. I witnessed the transformation of the community in Cunnamulla. When I arrived, domestic violence and drug and alcohol issues were rife, and the hospital was busy all the time. There was no communication between the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) and the other medical clinic in town, which was for everyone. 

Doctors were flying in from Brisbane for the AMS only twice a month but didn't pass their notes on to the other clinic, which was open every day. So when patients ended up in the hospital or required urgent attention, we wouldn't know what was going on with them, what medication they were on or what blood tests had already been done.

The logical next step was to merge the two clinics into one practice which we did. We then started different services for men and women and talked about the effect of drugs and domestic violence. I was one of the first doctors to be involved in that group.

And the level of domestic violence dropped from where you'd see somebody coming to the hospital, invariably almost every day, to where you would be there for three weeks, and you wouldn't see them. The police also had a huge impact when they busted an ice ring. We got to know most of the elders and the people in town, and this was a place that brought a bit of joy for me. It made me feel pretty special that I'd been part of this important change. 

When I sit down as an old man talking to my great-grandkids, if I ever live to be that old, that's one place I'll mention. I witnessed a transformation from being an unruly town into a pretty well-organised place.

The Western NSW Local Health District has recently chosen Ochre Health and Ochre Recruitment to provide medical services in Bourke, Brewarrina, Collarenebri, Coonamble, Lightning Ridge and Walgett. As one of our first GPs in Walgett, how are you getting on? 

It has been an enormous team effort to set everything up, but we're now running smoothly, and I'm enjoying my time here. I was expecting to see many challenging social health issues, but I've been nicely surprised. I would encourage other GPs to come out here and give it a go. The amount of support you get from everyone makes it even easier and more enjoyable than working in a city practice or hospital.

What advice, in general, would you give to GPs considering a rural general practice locum?

Experiencing what rural people experience enriches your medical knowledge without a doubt. In rural medicine, you have to deal with situations you would not encounter in everyday city practice. You admit patients, look after them, discharge them, and they go home. And you follow up with them as out-patients. This is a holistic approach.

The amount of trust given to doctors in small towns is unbelievable. People consult and talk to you about their social issues when planning to get married or start a family. You become part of the whole circle of life where you can make a huge difference.

It's worth doing, even if only for a few weeks per month or per year, where you leave your comfort zone and see how another part of the world lives. And then you appreciate what you have when you go back home. 

What would your advice be for students considering a rural generalist pathway?

In rural general practice, you are your boss. You're probably one of two or three doctors in small towns, and everyone knows who you are. But the amount of support you have just a phone call or video link away is more than you'd get being in the RPA. The work-life balance is enviable, and there's always a locum to relieve you if you need to go somewhere.

There are also many educational avenues where people come in to teach, help and support you. Financially too, rent is a lot cheaper, and sometimes the hospitals provide accommodation for you and young families.

The whole community becomes part of your wider family and can be very supportive. You won't be as lonely as being in the big cities. I would definitely locum again if I could relive my whole career, and I would probably take the same route.

You have decided to donate your $1,000 to your son, who is training to become an anatomical pathologist at the Royal College of Pathology. Tell us a bit about what he's up to? 

It's been five years since my son Mthulisi graduated in medicine from the University of Adelaide, and he's now going into his third year of specialising in anatomical pathology. He's also doing a master's degree at the University of Sydney, so as you can imagine, his studies require a lot of financial input. 

He has just bought a special microscope that I know was a huge expense, so this donation is a small token of my acknowledgment and appreciation for all the effort he's putting into his career.

He sounds like a very deserved recipient. Thank you, Oswell, for sharing your story and for all your incredible work with Ochre.


If you'd like to know more about locum opportunities in the Queensland outback town of Cunnamulla or Walgett in the North West region of NSW, please contact Phil Dixon directly on 0424 550 378.

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