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6 July 2020

An intern year of opportunity

An intern year of opportunity

For many future doctors, the idea of their intern year is nothing short of daunting.  But for Dr Gia Cavalieri interning at Mackay and Proserpine hospitals in north Queensland was an overwhelmingly positive experience, one which has seen her grow and flourish as a doctor.

“There is a lot of talk amongst junior doctors around the globe that interns and juniors struggle with stress and anxiety and feel that they can’t ask for help. But my experience as an intern in northern Queensland has been incredible,” Dr Cavalieri said.

“My supervisors here have been so approachable, my bosses have always been available to chat and I feel like I can talk to them about pretty much anything.  I’ve been able to express my opinions and I’ve always been able to ask for advice. I’ve felt very much supported.”

Dr Cavalieri’s connection to the Mackay region started during her medical student days at James Cook University when she opted to head to the University’s clinical school at the Mackay Base Hospital for her final two years of study.

The opportunities she found, and the support she received made her decision to stay on with the Mackay Hospital and Health Service for her intern year an easy one.

“It’s a very friendly environment.  I just wanted to stay here.  I liked my time as a student and had developed good relationships with the doctors.  I was familiar with the area, the wards, and the system.  It was a comfortable fit and made sense to me.”

The other great appeal to staying in the region for Dr Cavalieri was the opportunity to undertake an extended rural rotation.

“I spent the first seven months of my internship in Proserpine which is a small rural town about an hour north of Mackay and I honestly could not think of a better way to have kicked off this career,” Dr Cavalieri said.

“The Proserpine hospital has about 30 beds and is staffed by a pretty incredible crew of rural generalists and multidisciplinary team.  They’re probably the best group of people I have ever worked with.”

For Dr Cavalieri, the variety of clinical presentations in the rural town nestled in the heart of the Whitsundays was a major drawcard.

“We’d get this flurry of tourist activity all the time as well as rural traumas.  For example in the ED  any one day you could be working up an unwell child in the morning, managing trauma in the middle of the day, to seeing a patient with an Irukandji sting, which is the very nasty jellyfish we get up here.  You’re never bored.”

The level of autonomy and ability to learn and develop new skills while being supported by a friendly and accessible team of seniors added to her experience.

“Essentially we were able to work up whatever the next patient was there for if we were free to see them. I think that is the best way to learn, to do it by yourself, and try and figure it out,” Dr Cavalieri said.

“The beauty of Proserpine was the perfect balance between that autonomy and the unwavering support of our seniors in the background, who were really there with us every step of the way."

After an initial rotation in Emergency, Dr Cavalieri moved on to working between the ward, clinics, and theatre.  This allowed her to work one on one with the hospital’s Senior Medical Officers and broaden her skills base.  Importantly it gave her the chance to improve her clinical reasoning and build her confidence.

“They trusted us as clinicians even though as an intern you’re the baby of medicine. The staff in Proserpine really empowered us to think for ourselves and make decisions for ourselves,” Dr Cavalieri said.

“The variety of what we did also helped.  If I wasn’t on the ward my week was very varied.  Day one could be learning how to run a sedation in a scope list with an anaesthetist, day two could be running an antenatal clinic with the boss, day three could be assisting in a caesarean section possibly with a patient you met in the antenatal clinic, day four you could be learning how to manage a fracture clinic and day five back in Emergency again.  Then you’d be back on the ward the following week.  As an intern it such an incredible experience.

After finishing her rural rotation, Dr Cavalieri returned to the Mackay Hospital, where her positive experience continued in General Medicine.

“While general medicine can be pretty similar across the board the doctors on gen med in Mackay are very passionate about teaching and especially about intern teaching.  We get specific teaching sessions every day, which is fantastic.”

As for life in the northern city, Dr Cavalieri couldn’t recommend it highly enough. 

“We have a great social network here.  There are people in the hospital and in the wider community who are always up for a good time.  There is always someone to visit or something to do.”

“I like to spend as much time outside as possible which in north Queensland is very easy to do,” Dr Cavalieri enthused.

“It is still such a novelty to me that it is warm here all year and you can swim every day of the year and not worry about being cold.  You can go camping pretty much all year round.  There is so much to do.  As anyone who knows me will tell you I am a bit of a fish and spend a lot of time at the beach and in the water.

“North Queensland is a good fit all around.”

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.

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