7 June 2019
Gaining specialist skills for communities in need
For Dr Pradeesha Hettiarachchi, the chance to make a difference and give back to the north Queensland community is one of the biggest drivers of his career.
“Settling down in a regional community and offering specialist services is a huge thing. You can really have an impact and make a huge difference. Hopefully one day I will be able to do that.”
The Mackay based Obstetrics and Gynaecology registrar fell in love with north Queensland while completing his medical degree through James Cook University in Townsville and Cairns.
Through his many rural and remote placements with JCU, including outreach clinics on Thursday Island, Bamaga, Weipa, and Arakun, Dr Hettiarachchi has seen first-hand the difference providing specialty services could make.
“I kind of got a global aspect of what north Queensland is all about. Going to rural communities and seeing what they are like really opens your eyes. Seeing what doctors do with limited resources there shows you how lucky we are.”
It was his desire to return to northern Queensland that saw Dr Hettiarachchi take up a provincial registrar position based in Mackay for three years. He hasn’t looked back.
“Coming to Mackay as a junior registrar is fantastic. When it comes to training the experience is definitely here. I meet my supervisors every day, and they’re always around helping and guiding us,” Dr Hettiarachchi said.
“When you work in the bigger cities there are lots of other registrars competing for experience, competing for operative time. There are fewer registrars at the Mackay Base Hospital, you have more chances to operate and to show your independence.
“It’s great having consultants who live close by who are happy to help at the drop of a hat. It can be a bit daunting to call in your consultant in a big city hospital, but here in Mackay they are more like colleagues.
“They’re probably the most supportive consultants I’ve met in all the hospitals I’ve ever worked in.”
Dr Hettiarachchi has found the continuity of care he can provide patients in the regional city is also making him a better doctor and surgeon.
“In the bigger cities you would see someone in clinic and maybe do an operation and you would never see them again. In Mackay you will see them in clinic, you’ll book their procedure, do their procedure and follow up afterwards. You’ll be able to see how much they have benefitted from it and how they recovered. You can learn from that.
“One thing we miss as surgeons is that we operate, but never see the end results. We do get that chance to see that end result in Mackay. You just learn so much more.”
Dr Hettiarachchi is also relishing the opportunity to train Doctors to work in rural and remote regions. An opportunity he believes he would never have had working in a metropolitan area.
“We do teach a lot of GP Obstetrics. We have Rural Generalist pathway doctors coming through who do about 18 months of obstetrics and then go out to rural communities and deliver babies out there.
“It gives us the ability to give our skills to these doctors who are going out to these communities to deliver babies. It’s a responsibility to make sure they can handle themselves very well.”
At the end of his training, Dr Hettiarachchi plans to return to north Queensland and bring his skills to communities where they’ll make a difference. It’s his way of giving back to a region he feels has given him so much.
“I have been around a fair bit of Queensland and think that north Queensland has been pretty good to me.”
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.