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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7 July 2022
An Outback adventure just what the doctor ordered
Dr Christopher Akwuobi graduated from medical school in Nigeria eager for a challenge and passionate about helping people. He found what he was looking for, and much more, in the North-West Queensland town of Mount Isa. Arriving in Australia in 2020, Dr Akwuobi first completed a three-week medical observership at Mount Isa Medical Centre, then secured a position as a medical officer at Mount Isa Hospital. He says the Outback mining town ‘feels like home, just a little hotter’ and has provided a balance of interesting clinical work and excellent supervision; exactly the kind of medical experience that had brought him to Australia. “I chose Mount Isa because I've always known from my background in medicine that rural areas are where you’ll see the more challenging cases and get more hands-on experience,” Dr Akwuobi says. While rotating throughout the hospital’s departments, Dr Akwuobi found himself gravitating toward the emergency department (ED), an area he was already familiar with from over 10 years of work back home in Nigeria. “I’ve always been in the ED and general practice since graduating. Watching how an Australian emergency department is run was a very good experience. Right now I’m looking at doing specialty training in emergency medicine after I get my general registration,” Dr Akwuobi says. Mount Isa Hospital has been the perfect place for a doctor like Dr Akwuobi who is interested in training in emergency medicine. As a part of the North-West Hospital and Health Service (NWHHS), the hospital services NWHHS serves a population of approximately 32,000 people across 300,000 square kilometres. Dr Akwuobi has seen a diverse range of medical cases in emergency from young to elderly patients, including acute coronary syndrome, allergies and anaphylactic reactions, sepsis, orbital cellulitis, stroke, head injuries, lacerations and complex fractures, pneumothorax, GI bleeding, appendicitis, cholecystitis, diverticulitis, bowel obstructions, alcoholic liver disease, and a range of chronic health conditions. “Some of the things I have observed in Mount Isa were completely new to me. You see a lot of complex cases and chronic issues as well as a lot around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health,” he says. The need for more doctors is an issue facing many of our regional and rural communities, and Mount Isa is no exception. Dr Akwuobi says he could see the strain on the town’s health services, particularly when it came to general practice. “If we don’t have enough GPs, it adds a burden on the emergency department as patients are presenting with issues that would be more suited to treatment in general practice. We try as much as we can to see all the patients, but with long wait times you might have patients leave rather than wait for treatment, which impacts health outcomes,” he says. The diverse and complex caseload Dr Akwuobi was seeing significantly grew his clinical skills and knowledge. Supporting him every step of his progression was what he says is the best medical supervision he’s ever worked under. “It’s not your typical supervisor-trainee relationship, it was more of a closer partnership,” Dr Akwuobi says. “We have consultants and senior medical officers available most of the time so if you were ever confused, you could always get someone to support you. They were also very helpful for me as an International Medical Graduate They're able to guide you, especially with Australian guidelines. Honestly, these are just some of the best doctors I've ever worked in my career. “There is a culture where people don’t say no to each other, as far as it is in their ability to help, everyone was really happy to support one another. You don't have any issues at all when it comes to relationships with colleagues. Because they're all very lovely. It was a very peaceful environment.” Dr Akwuobi says. “When you’re not working, there are all these things you can do. I have a neighbour who loves hiking so we can do all these adventures in the middle of nowhere! I got involved in a local football team. There’s definitely enough to balance your work and life.” Dr Akwuobi was in Mount Isa for 14 months before relocating to Hervey Bay to complete work-based assessment required for full registration in Australia. He remembers his time in Mount Isa incredibly fondly and is excited by the prospect of returning to the region. “I don't think I am interested in practising in the big cities after my rural experiences. I would be very happy if I had the chance to go back to the North-West. It’s all dependent on applying during the annual recruitment campaign and going through the process,” Dr Akwuobi says. Traditionally, Mount Isa might not have been considered the ‘place to be’ for medical training, but the sentiment is changing. Dr Akwuobi’s positive experience is shared by others, like Dr Sally Magoffin, and they’re encouraging more doctors in training to discover for themselves what the town has to offer. “It’s a very good place to do your medical specialty training, particularly when it comes to emergency medicine. I'll say it is one of the best medical communities I've worked in. The consultants, my colleagues, the whole allied health team; were all wonderful. The whole experience means a lot to me and has really helped my medical practice,” Dr Akwuobi says.Read More
1 July 2022
Pieces fall into place during internship
American Dr Curtis Wong says his intern year at Mackay Base Hospital in 2021 was a lucky convergence of circumstances. The combination of a tight intern cohort, great work environment and enjoyable rotations made it easy for Dr Wong to stay on in the regional North Queensland city in postgraduate year two. Dr Wong is from Pleasanton, a small town near San Francisco. He did a hybrid degree with the University of Queensland Ochsner Clinical School in which American medical students spend their first two years in Brisbane and their final two years in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Most students from my program choose to match back in the States. But I ended up liking Australia, so I came back,” he says. “I decided to do most of my fourth year in Australia, then managed to get an internship spot and landed in Mackay. “The hospital environment has been really good. I prefer smaller hospitals to begin with, and it’s a nice, close-knit sort of place. Everyone knows each other. You meet all of the registrars, they know you, and you know your consultants. “I lucked out, and we had a very tight intern cohort. We had a big friend group right off the bat and everyone just really gelled very well. Medical Workforce was excellent. They took care of us and a lot of us were able to do rotations that we really wanted to do." “For example, I really was keen on obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) and had a great time last year in the O&G department. I was able to do a lot as an intern that I don't necessarily know I would have been able to do at another site, and they were keen to have me back as well. And I always had very kind and gracious patients.” A doting ‘greyhound uncle’ to his housemates’ adopted dog, Hughie, Dr Wong enjoys the lifestyle Mackay offers. “Mackay has a relaxed, small-town vibe, which I really like,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting it to be such a beach town, to be honest – I thought it was just going to be pure sugarcane. “I'm planning on staying next year to do more time in O&G and hope to eventually apply for the program. I’ll have to change hospitals at some point before that can happen, but I'd love to come back to Mackay and work as a registrar one day.” 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.Read More
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
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.