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Exploring infectious diseases in the Far North

Far North Queensland may be a long way from home for Glaswegian, Dr Simon Smith, but for the infectious diseases specialist at the Cairns Hospital,  there’s no place he’d rather be.

“I came to Australia ten years ago, initially to the Sunshine Coast, but I really wanted to experience tropical medicine in a more remote location.  I particularly wanted to look after people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, so I came to Cairns as a registrar.”

Despite having to return south to finish his training, the lure of exotic infections and the sheer scope of work on offer in northern Queensland was too strong to resist.

Giving in to the pull, Dr Smith returned to Cairns four years ago as a specialist at the Cairns Hospital.

 “When it comes to infectious diseases nothing really compares.  The infectious diseases you see here are different from most other places in Australia.   So you get to carry out research and clinical practice in infections you just don’t see anywhere else – the opportunities are endless.”

Since his return, Dr Smith has also been able to pursue his interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, with clinics in remote communities across the far north.

“There is still a lot of poverty and areas of need in northern Queensland and the Torres Strait.  Being able to provide medical services to these communities, based on what the communities feel they need is very, very fulfilling.”

While the work may have brought him back, the laid back, friendly north Queensland lifestyle has also won him over.

“Within a week of moving back to far north Queensland I had multiple invitations, multiple activities going on people were really inclusive and really keen for me to be part of their experience of living and working here.”

And Dr Smith believes that good will extends through to the hospital as well.

 “Everyone here is really happy and really supportive.  They all have the same goal of getting the job done and improving the care of people living up here.  There are fewer egos and not as many people out to prove themselves like you sometimes find in the big city hospitals.”

Having had a positive experience as a registrar completing his general physician training in Cairns, he’s keen to encourage others to experience the benefits regional training has to offer.

“The breadth of experience is unmatched anywhere else I’ve ever been. On top of that, you’ve got a supportive hospital environment where the people are really encouraging and welcoming." 

Registrars can complete most of their Physician training at  Cairns Hospital and all of their training in northern Queensland.

“You get a lot of general exposure to clinical scenarios and clinical problems.  Often when you're working in a big hospital you are siloed into one specialty or area and that’s all you do for three or four months.  Here you’re expected to chip in and you get exposure to lots and lots of different people with lots of different medical problems.”

“We're really supportive of training registrars; we provide daily teaching and up to 13 hours per week during exam times.  The pass rate for the physician exam here is one of the highest in the state”

Dr Smith also sees the job prospects in the north as an added advantage for those completing their Physician training here.

 “Often if you are working in the big cities or the southeast corner you have to compete for fractions of positions once you finish.  Whereas in northern Queensland you can often get a full-time position.

For those contemplating a northern adventure, Dr Smith recommends coming to Cairns for at least one year.

 “I bet if they come up here for a year they’ll fall in love with the place.  I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.”

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