A journey for opportunity and adventure
With a medical family and a thirst for adventure, it’s little wonder Dr Marie Tran found herself choosing to do her intern year in the north Queensland city of Mackay, with a rural rotation up the road in Bowen.
“I’m from Montreal in Canada, but chose to study medicine at James Cook University in north Queensland. I’d met a lot of Australians doing their gap year in Canada and knew a lot of Canadians who went to Australia.”
“We have two uncles who are doctors and two cousins in Australia who both graduated from medicine. They always told us that we had the personalities for the marathon that is medicine and a love of adventure. So they'd say why not study in Australia and have an adventure at the same time.”
Dr Tran received another nudge in that direction when her older sister decided to follow their advice and enroll in medicine at JCU.
“My sister is also a doctor. She is the year ahead of me and started the marathon a year before me and really liked it. I kind of do everything that she does.”
Dr Tran said the decision to apply for an intern position in Mackay was something of a no brainer, having spent the last two years of her medical degree with the JCU Clinical School there.
“I picked Mackay for my final years of study because my sister was there. She chose it because there were fewer students. This meant they got to do more and have more independence while still students,” Dr Tran said.
“We were still in med school but we got to do similar jobs to the interns. It made the shift to the intern year much easier. I was more confident and had so much hands-on experience already.”
But Dr Tran said even for those new to the region, interning in Mackay, with a rural placement in Bowen, is a great experience.
“Everyone is extremely supportive and they understand our journey. They're always there to help if we need it.”
She admits the broad clinical case-mix seen in regional and rural areas certainly adds to the experience.
“It’s awesome to be in a rural area. There’s a different flow and you get to know the ‘frequent flyers’ better. There’s a lot more autonomy and responsibility. We’re also taught how to use the rescue services and there are a lot of emergency simulations as part of the training as well. In one of those simulations, the doctor had to insert a chest drain because of pneumothorax with guidance over the phone from the Critical Care Centre.”
Diagnosing and treating tropical diseases is another bonus for the junior doctor.
“As JCU is a tropical university, we learnt a lot about the common presentations in tropical areas, such as Q-fever, melioidosis, rheumatic heart disease, and Ross River virus. It was built into our curriculum and history taking from early on.” Dr Tran explained.
“Some of our colleagues from the south come to us and say ‘wow, I just saw a case of rheumatic heart disease, I thought that never existed except in the textbooks’. And we’re like, ‘nope, up here it’s actually pretty common’.”
It’s not only the work that has grabbed the former Montrealer, with the north Queensland lifestyle around Mackay and Bowen hitting the spot.
“I get to go swimming every day. The beach is five minutes away and if I’m on a late shift I’ll go and swim in the morning before work. There are some great perks!
“Bowen is the most stunning, beautiful area to work. There are hiking tracks that go to all the different beaches. You hike for an hour and finish up going for a swim. The water is so inviting it is like a magnet.
“When people come to Horseshoe Bay you can see their eyes are just drawn to the water. There’s something magnetic about the blue and the green. It’s awesome, great for snorkelling and the reef is beautiful.
“I understand why it is such a good tourist spot. I hear a lot of tourists out and about and then get to treat them as patients too.”
While she’s loving life in north Queensland, Dr Tran said it’s also an important step toward her ultimate goal of working in critical care. A pathway she fell in love with while on rural placement as a medical student.
“We had to transfer a patient by helicopter from Ayr and it was late at night. It was my first experience with the retrieval helicopter. In walks this doctor, and she’s little like me and she was wearing the flight suit with 'Doctor' on the back. I though that’s what I want to be. I’ve been pursuing that path ever since.”