A network of medical training opportunities
We connect medical students, interns and junior doctors with resources and opportunities to prepare for specialist training and beyond, creating stronger health outcomes in our region.
Dr Tadiwa Mashavave, Junior Doctor, Mackay Base Hospital“It was during my time at JCU that I decided I wanted to end up somewhere rural or regional and I thought I would be able to gain a lot of hands-on skills in my junior years at a regional hospital like Mackay Base Hospital. It’s been great working with other doctors who are as passionate about rural health and the people it serves.”
Dr Hannah Bennett, Rural Generalist and Pain Specialist, Townsville University Hospital"As a consultant in Pain Medicine, I have excellent work-life balance. Townsville is a great place to raise a family and there's so much on your doorstep here. It's just an easy life.” Read More
Dr Anthony Brazzale, Cardiologist, Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service“We have advanced trainees who come from Brisbane and want to come back here now as consultants. They tell us this is one of the best training centres in Australia. The opportunities you get up here, you’ll get nowhere else.”
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21 June 2022
Tropics has it all for infectious diseases specialist
Infectious diseases consultant and microbiologist Dr Carly Hughes has seen her specialties come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic. “People have realized what infectious disease (ID) physicians are and what they do,” the Townsville University Hospital (TUH) specialist says. “People are considering ID as a career, and it's a really rewarding one. It brings a lot of aspects of medicine together.” Innisfail-born Dr Hughes graduated from James Cook University in 2007 and did her junior doctor and basic physician training in Townsville. She finished her five-year dual training program in ID and microbiology in Newcastle and Melbourne before returning to Townsville early in 2022 as a specialist. COVID’s beginnings Working as an ID consultant in Melbourne for the first two years of the pandemic, Dr Hughes was at the coalface when a returned traveller from Wuhan became Australia’s first confirmed case of COVID in late January 2020. “We had the first ever COVID patient in Australia in my hospital in Melbourne,” she says. “Initially in 2020, when we had COVID wards full in Melbourne, we had nothing to offer patients. It was quite a shift for us. There were no treatments, and a lot of people were dying despite our best conservative measures. We weren't used to that. “Now there are a few treatments that are effective, and the vaccines that have been developed demonstrate scientific research to practice. It just shows what the scientific community of the world can do when they have the right funding and the impetus to create new things. “We're seeing fewer hospitalisations, but the patients we have here are still quite complex. TUH have done a great job in their COVID planning and the infectious disease unit is really well run. General medical and specialty colleagues are admitting their own patients with COVID as well, so there's both an inpatient role and an advisory role.” The specialties Dr Hughes is employed full-time as an ID consultant at TUH: “We manage inpatients with complex or difficult-to-manage infections, a proportion of COVID work, and consult on other specialties to provide assistance in managing infections. “The second side of my training is microbiology, which is the lab aspect of diagnosing infections. Microbiologists work in the microbiology laboratory alongside scientists. This is where they culture, for example, samples for bacteria, as well as the molecular diagnostics for pathogens, and serologic testing looking for antigens or antibody production in response to infections. “Microbiology is a laboratory-based specialty. They assist with diagnostic and management advice, as well as antimicrobial stewardship, infection control and intensive care rounds. Without it, the hospital would stop. Every diagnosis that doctors make usually has some pathology results behind it.” The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) work in tandem to deliver an education program that is split into three years of training in microbiology and two years of ID. Infectious diseases in the Tropics “I call ID a thinking specialty,” Dr Hughes says. “You have time to sit down and think about your patients and think about what could be going on and what tests would be best to diagnose that infection and then you know how best to treat them. Dr Robert Norton was one of my supervisors as a medical student and junior doctor and working with him and his colleagues and training under excellent registrars drew me down that path a bit. But I also really liked that it's one of the few specialties where you can cure people most of the time, there's usually a treatment and they usually get better.” “I came from Melbourne in a very large metropolitan centre with a very busy caseload. When I looked at the consult list on my first day back here, there was such a spectrum of infections, some things I hadn't managed a lot of ever, really, and there were multiple cases ranging from tropical infections to very unusual presentations of infections to heaps of common ID things. “The caseload here is fascinating. I think it’s a real drawcard for infectious diseases physicians to work somewhere like this. There are lots of different things going on, lots of really good intellectual things to get your teeth into, but also a large spectrum of work." “Particularly if you want to work in the north, infectious diseases is really rewarding. It's a very interesting and varied specialty. You don't see infection presenting the same way twice and there's a potential for curing patients. There's a real need for further research and advancement of our specialty. “Every specialty has their own infections, but we get the complex and difficult diagnostic ones and it can be really rewarding when you get that right and you can offer some treatment and the patient gets better.” Training pathways “You can do pure infectious diseases, which is a three-year training program through the college of physicians (RACP) after you’ve completed basic physician training. You can do dual training, which is the two specialties, infectious diseases and microbiology, in five years. You can combine infectious diseases with other physician specialties, so commonly people will do infectious diseases plus general medicine, which is a nice combo. You can do pure microbiology which is a five-year training program through the college of pathology (RCPA) so you don't have to do physician training first.” Work and play Dr Hughes is one of a number of early JCU medicine graduates who have returned to North Queensland as consultants recently. “My colleagues from JCU who are back here are the people I reached out to, to get the lay of the land of the hospital. They all encouraged me to come back and said Townsville was a great place to work, and perhaps even more importantly than that, a great place to raise a family.” “It has a small-town hospital feel with every specialty represented. Training in big cities, you might not get your specialty of choice, and you might not meet half of the consultants in the team. For example, in Melbourne, there were between 20 and 30 ID physicians at my hospital, whereas here there are currently five. Here, the students are integrated into the team. The clinical experience here is superior to down south, especially for exposure to specialties they may not have considered because they get access to every specialty here. “It was difficult in Melbourne in lockdown with a young family. We really missed family contact, socialising, friends and the North Queensland way of life. When this job came up, it was a good opportunity and time to move home. Coming back here we've just noticed such a lifestyle change. We're out doing something every weekend and everyone's so welcoming and sociable. It's just a really nice place to live and work, and that's so important.” ‘Everything's available here’ Dr Hughes did placements in Mount Isa, Charters Towers and Townsville during her JCU studies. “Having a wide exposure to a number of different specialties here really helped consolidate my career path,” she says. “I had significant career uncertainty even though I knew I wanted to be a physician, I didn't know what type of physician. I did renal, neurology and ID here and enjoyed them, which made it a bit more difficult to come to a career decision. “There were fewer of us then, but Townsville is unique in that as a medical student, you get one-on-one teaching and tuition, and you get to develop mentor relationships with clinicians you admire. You have the opportunity to go and then train in any of the specialties. Everything's available here. “Part of the reason I came home was that a lot of my colleagues from university are back here. I loved training here and I love the medical school. It has a good reputation, and I think the JCU students are recognised to be very competent doctors.”Read More
19 May 2022
Cardiology Spotlight: Far north local’s heart for rural health
Cardiologist and JCU alumnus Dr Anthony Brazzale took an ‘all in’ approach to pursuing his career in medicine and it has certainly paid off. His journey into cardiology has taken him from Far North Queensland to major health services across the country and back again. As a Consultant Staff Specialist at Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (CHHHS), he is part of one of the country’s leading cardiology units and is committed to helping address outback Queensland’s escalating heart disease epidemic. The grandson of Italian immigrants, Dr Brazzale grew up on the family tobacco farm (now mango farm) in Mutchilba, a small community an hour and a half drive north-west of Cairns. His first exposure to cardiology came at a young age from an unexpected role in supporting his grandfather through treatment for heart disease. “I was always very interested in biology and medicine, but the experience with my grandfather’s illness left an impression on me and was a driver for sure,” Dr Brazzale says. “They don't know the cause of his heart failure, but his heart was functioning at 10% of what is considered normal. Because my parents were working long hours on the farm and I could speak a little Italian, I would go into town to appointments with him and translate what the doctor told him,” Dr Brazzale says. Graduating at the top of his class from Mareeba State High School, Dr Brazzale decided to pursue his childhood dream and enroll in Medicine at James Cook University (JCU). “I didn't have a backup option because there wasn’t anything else I was that passionate about. It was either medicine or going back to the family farm. “Given my country upbringing and JCU’s focus on rural health, it was the perfect fit for me,” Dr Brazzale says. After graduating with First Class Honours and completing his internship in Cairns, Dr Brazzale made the move to Brisbane and subsequently the Sunshine Coast to pursue cardiology training. Once he had developed a solid foundation in clinical cardiology he headed further south for a year of sub-specialty training in Interventional Cardiology at Western Health in Melbourne. Keen to return to the Far North, Dr Brazzale moved back to Cairns in 2017, commencing at Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (CHHHS) as a Consultant Staff Specialist in Interventional Cardiology. He also works in private practice offering a range of services in contemporary cardiac care.Read More
18 May 2022
A will to succeed: My path into medicine
A former elite judo athlete and nurse, Dr Celeste Barrington took an unconventional path into medicine. Dr Barrington, a Medical Education Registrar and Emergency Department Senior House Officer at Townsville University Hospital, shares her medicine story and her tips for students and junior doctors deciding on a specialty pathway: “Medicine was always my dream, but juggling rigorous training and a heavy international competition schedule representing Australia in judo meant my sporting aspirations took priority at the time and I didn’t finish high school. I studied nursing as a stepping stone to medicine in the hope it would one day make me a better doctor. In 2014, after four unsuccessful applications to study medicine domestically, I applied to Oceania University of Medicine and was accepted. I thought I was good at juggling until I hit med school. My MD degree took me four and a half years to complete. During this time, I had two babies, worked as a clinical nurse 0.6FTE in PICU/ICU and studied fulltime. As an international medical graduate, I had to pass the Australian Medical Council examinations prior to being able to apply for registration with the medical board. In 2020, after 21 years as a nurse, I realised my dream to be a doctor and started my internship at Townsville University Hospital. My life experiences, motherhood and the obstacles I have faced on my journey in medicine have influenced my trajectory and resulted in me having very different career goals now to what I did 10 years ago. I am no less motivated to have a successful career in medicine, but my perspective and priorities have definitely changed. I am currently the Medical Education Registrar and I work within the Medical Education and Workforce Service Team at Townsville Hospital and Health Service (THHS). My role is to provide support to our interns and Resident Medical Officers. I work collaboratively with the Mater Medical Education Unit, James Cook University Townsville Clinical School, Northern Queensland Regional Training Hubs and the Clinical Simulation Centre to facilitate workshops and educational opportunities for our junior doctors and support doctors in difficulty. My other key portfolio is oversight of our Prevocational Medical Accreditation Queensland (PMAQ) accreditation for our Intern Program. I completed most of my rotations locally in Townsville as a non-JCU elective student. I was very much supported by the Clinical Dean and JCU Clinical School staff. I spent most of my time attached to a JCU fifth-year group and was able to participate in tutorials and other educational opportunities, which enabled me to network and further build on my existing professional relationships across THHS.” Dr Barrington’s top tips for a student or junior doctor deciding on a specialty pathway: When deciding on a specialty, the key considerations will likely be slightly different for all of us, and I think it can change at different stages of our lives. It’s important to consider your interests and passions, personality type, values, family/work life balance goals, length of training pathway, availability of positions long term, and financial goals. Make sure you take the time to explore different rotations and options. You don’t have to decide your long-term career pathway while you are still a medical student. Consider your personality type. Are you naturally suited to your chosen career or are there things you need to work on to make you better suited? Do your research. Find out as much as you can about different pathways then compare them. It’s OK not to know or to change your mind. Don’t simply pursue a pathway because someone else says you would be good at it. Consider your own motivation, goals and values. NQRTH connects medical students, intern and junior doctors with a network of opportunities and resources designed to create a supportive and clear path to specialist (including general practice) training, and beyond, in our regions. Our network works together to strengthen medical specialist training with the view to build a health workforce prepared to meet the health needs of our regional and rural communities in Cairns, Central West, Mackay, North West, Torres and Cape, and Townsville. NQRTH is facilitated by James Cook University, who partner with hospital and health services and training providers to create a connected career pathway beginning at the medical undergraduate level right through to fellowship. EXPLORE SPECIALTIES IN NORTHERN QUEENSLANDRead More
17 May 2022
Why I decided to stay in North Queensland
For some doctors, it’s the breadth of interesting clinical medicine and close consultant contact that draws them to North Queensland for their medical training. For others, the clear winner is an easy tropical lifestyle that cuts out the tedious commute and means more time for family, recreation and community. Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Vanessa Lusink landed in Townsville from Sydney to train in advanced laparoscopic gynaecological surgery with leaders in the field and enjoyed it so much, she and her partner decided to stay. Similarly, British doctors Andrew Livingstone and Susannah Bond fell in love with Townsville after arriving as psychiatry registrars and have gone on to help shape their specialty in the region and take full advantage of coastal life with their young family. BreastScreen Mackay Director and Surgeon Dr Wendela Schimmer and Cairns Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr Andrew Graham found professional and personal reward in their adopted northern homes, on the doorstep of some of the Sunshine State’s most beautiful natural attractions. Here, they talk about why they decided to put down roots in North Queensland.Read More
NQRTH is an initiative of the Australian Government's Integrated Rural Training Pipeline (IRTP) and is facilitated by James Cook University in partnership with public and private hospitals, Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC), health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and GP clinics.