Meet Dr Francois Pretorius, Ochre Health's new CMO

By Melinda McCarthy published on 23/03/2022 Ochre Recruitment, Ochre Health, Rural Generalism /

Ochre Health Group’s new Chief Medical Officer, Dr Francois Pretorius, talks to us about his first few months at Ochre, his career in Rural General Practice and his passion for training and development.

You joined the Ochre Health Group earlier this year - how is it all going?

It has been a whirlwind and it’s still going.  I actually first joined forces with Ochre back in 2015 when I amalgamated my practice in Buderim with Ochre Sippy Downs and worked for Ochre for 13 months before making a career move into Medical Administration and moving to Central Queensland.  As was the case back then, Ochre has always been an amazing organisation to be a part of and I have felt right at home from the first day.  It has been 6 weeks now since starting my new role as Chief Medical Officer and in spite of the great challenge and big shoes left to fill by my predecessor, John Hall, the whole experience has been great and I am looking forward to growing and developing in this position.

Take us back to your early years and what motivated you to pursue a career in medicine?

I honestly can’t remember ever wanting to be anything other than a rural doctor and besides dreams of being a cattle farmer, I have always been drawn to a career in medicine. I can recall reading a book called “A Country Vet” by James Herriot as a young boy about the life of a Veterinarian in rural England and besides not wanting to have a career in animal medicine, the romance of life in the country and being a part of a small community and being able to give back to the community has always appealed to me.  And I guess the rest is history.

Where was your first job? And what challenges did you encounter that have helped shape the way you practice today?

After my intern years, I briefly joined the Army and thought about a specialist career in Orthopaedics, but made the wise (not usual for me) decision to go into General Practice first with the view of always being able to go back and specialise later.  27 years later, I’m still in General Practice. My first job was an associate to a married couple of GP’s in Upington, in the Southern Kalahari Desert in South Africa and 6 months into this job, the then owners informed me that they were immigrating to Canada. I was given the option to either buy the practice or leave town and find another job, so full of youthful bravado, took out a bank loan at the age of 24 and started my own practice. Talk about challenging yourself… It did however give me the foundation of what I have today and that is a passion for not just quality primary healthcare, but also equality in healthcare access.

You have specialist skills in a number of areas, how has this range and diversity assisted you as a doctor?

I have formal AST training in Obstetrics and Emergency Medicine and have worked extensively in both areas.  I have a special interest in Paediatrics and have helped develop and write the AST training curriculum for ACRRM in Paediatrics.  Skin cancer medicine has come about after I stopped doing procedural obstetrics in 2013 and missed holding a scalpel.  I do however believe that we as GP’s under-value our skills and abilities as we can offer so much more than just writing scripts and referrals to specialists.  We are what primary healthcare is all about and we have the ability, skills and training to truly make a difference in our patient's lives and health outcomes. The more skills we can bring to the table, the better the service is that we can deliver, especially in rural and remote areas where specialist skills are non-existing.

Can you share some of your career highlights to date?

Finding a specific highlight is difficult as there have been so many amazing moments throughout my career.  The things that bring me joy every day is when a patient who I have not seen for years from somewhere I have long moved away from, calls me up to ask my advice or travels across states to come and see me; or a student who later comes back as an intern and again as a PHO and ends up as GP registrar; and I still get a lump in my throat every time I deliver a baby. As doctors, we have the amazing privilege of being there at the start of life, but we are also there at the end of life. Not many professions have the opportunity to share this deep emotional bond with people. My career highlight is my career. Having had the privilege to share life starting and ending and the opportunity to have an impact somewhere in the middle.

Tell us a bit about your passion for training and development and your involvement in Telehealth in the state of QLD?

Training and education have always been a passion of mine. I truly believe that we have the ability to shape the future of our young students and junior doctors by the way we practice and share our knowledge and experience. If we are not passionate about what we do, we will never instill a passion in others. I had awesome teachers throughout my career and not all of these were doctors. Some of my best teachings came from nurses and patients. Unfortunately due to the change in general practice demographic, a lot of knowledge and experience is getting lost and not passed on. I want to keep some of this alive.

Telehealth was very much born out of necessity for me.  After moving from the Sunshine Coast where there was any number of specialist services available around every corner to Barcaldine in Central West where you had to drive an hour and a half to have an ultrasound or have your eyes tested, I realised how wide the gap is in healthcare access between urban and rural areas. Just because you live in a rural postcode, does not mean that your access to healthcare should be second rate. Telehealth was a natural solution for this problem and I was keen to look at ways to improve access through the use of technology. I was fortunate enough to work with some amazing people to push the telehealth agenda and although there is still a bit of reluctance to adopt telehealth amongst doctors and patients, the recent pandemic has forced us in a way to embrace this new technology and use it to our advantage.

What advice would you give currently to GPs who are interested in pursuing rural practice?

Do it. You’ll never look back. There truly is no better medicine. You will be able to change the lives of so many people. You will have the opportunity to work in some amazingly beautiful places and meet some incredible people and you will be an integral part of a community that will embrace you.

And what are some of your goals for Ochre during 2022 and beyond?

Ochre Health is in a rapid growth phase and is posed to have 80 practices and around 450 doctors by the end of 2022.  My vision for Ochre Health is to be leaders in General Practice. We may not be the biggest, but we certainly want to be the best. Our focus is on our communities, our patients and our doctors. I want every doctor in Australia to think Ochre when asked about general practice.

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

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