27 October 2021
Upskilling doctors at the coalface of remote community health
Rural generalists in the Cape and Torres will be enhancing health services available to remote communities after receiving specialty training grants from the North Queensland Regional Training Hubs (NQRTH), an initiative of James Cook University (JCU).
The Cape and Torres 2021 grants will deliver funding for five medical supervisors and general practitioner registrars in Thursday Island and Cooktown to undertake training for additional skills or knowledge beyond the scope of mandatory training.
This year $33,000 was distributed to six successful applications for training across a range of activities such as ultrasounds and emergency medicine.
NQRTH Regional Training Hubs manager for Cairns and the Cape and Torres, Robyn Dupuis, has led the grants program since its inception in 2018 and said it’s about filling gaps in health services for remote regions.
“By upskilling our rural generalists, who are on the ground day in and day out, we're helping them to meet the community's needs in between the visits from the outreach specialists, providing care sooner and saving patients from having to travel to Cairns or bigger cities,” Ms Dupuis said.
The health needs of communities in rural, regional and remote areas of northern Queensland are currently underserved. There is a disproportionately high number of GPs and specialists concentrated in the capital cities with a corresponding impact on doctor shortages in regional, rural and remote areas.
The grants initiative is helping address the lack of specialty training in the region by supporting rural generalists to meet the health needs in the far north.
“There’s a ripple effect that comes from expanding our doctors’ knowledge. By undertaking additional training, our supervisors and registrars can provide more comprehensive care to patients, they’re better able to diagnose conditions, and they can share this knowledge and train others in these skills as well.
NQRTH was formed by JCU in partnership with the public and private hospitals and health services and GP clinics in the northern Queensland region to help support the Australian Government’s Integrated Rural Training Pipeline for Medicine (IRTP) under the Health Workforce Program.
“One of our goals at NQRTH is to help get more opportunities into our remote communities, like the Cape which is primarily staffed by rural generalists,” Ms Dupuis said.
“We must support these doctors to have the skills to the best of their ability and at the top of their scope of practice.”
To receive the grant, applicants were required to live and work in rural Queensland and demonstrate that the proposed activity addressed a specific learning need that would be met by training and professional development not available locally.
One of the successful grant recipients was specialist medical practitioner and JCU GP Fellow, Dr Clare Applegarth, based on Thursday Island.
She will receive funding to undertake a national certificate in reproductive and sexual health and a training course on intrauterine device (IUD) insertion.
“Women’s health is a significant issue for the region, and there are very few doctors who are qualified to insert these contraceptive devices. When I go to the outer islands I have to tell women to come back when a GP with the relevant skills returns, which could be weeks away,” Dr Applegarth said.
“Thanks to the NQRTH grant, I will be able to upskill to help identify issues earlier, educate patients, and offer more comprehensive family planning services to communities in the region,” she said.
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.