Psychiatry training in north Queensland
As a junior doctor, Daniel Gileppa was fascinated by the brain. A rotation in neurology confirmed his passion, but the more he learned about how brain dysfunction affects behaviour, the more he realised his true calling lay elsewhere.
“I was very interested in disorders of the brain. I was very interested in the odd behaviours and thoughts that came from those disorders, and I realised that’s really more psychiatry.”
A psychiatry rotation followed, and he realised he’d found his perfect specialty.
Once training for a career in psychiatry would have required an extended move to a metropolitan centre, but that’s no longer the case. And as a north Queenslander who’d completed his medical degree at James Cook University, Dr Gileppa felt the pull to return to the north for his specialist training in Cairns.
“I travelled to a few places around Australia and around the world, but I always came back to north Queensland.
“I always enjoyed my time here, I always enjoyed the people here. I guess I feel like in a way they are my people, so this is one of the reasons I came back.”
At the time psychiatric training in Cairns was still in its relative infancy, with only five registrars on the pathway. Yet despite its size, the program offered wide scope for sub-specialisation.
“In days gone by, if you wanted to sub-specialise you would have to go away for your training to a metro centre. Now almost every sub-specialty of psychiatry can be completed in regional Queensland,” said Dr Gileppa.
“Subspecialties in child and youth, addiction studies, most of forensics, and older persons can be completed here.”
Dr Gileppa believes his training offered both support and autonomy.
“Initially there’s a high level of supervision and you work within a team. As a person progresses through their training there is a higher level of autonomy.
“I think in regional areas you do get a broader range of experiences and you don’t get that siloing that you might get in metropolitan centres.”
Since its early days, the psychiatry program has grown substantially in the region, with up to 25 registrars currently training in Cairns.
The Director of Training for psychiatry in north Queensland, Dr Andrew Amos, believes training in the north offers psychiatric registrars a unique experience.
“One of the advantages of working in a place like Mackay, Townsville or Cairns is that although the systems are not quite as developed up here, there are opportunities to have a much bigger role in developing those systems. So you can really write your own ticket to a large extent.”
“You won’t simply be another face. You get very personal attention and access to some innovative programs that will help you get through your training in the very shortest amount of time possible. It will then set you up really well for being integrated into the local community when you become a psychiatrist.”
Registrars also have the opportunity to work closely with the local community.
“The local community is really involved in helping medical students and doctors to develop their skills,” said Dr Amos.
“There's a group of volunteers here who act as simulated patients. They allow a doctor to develop their skills and demonstrate that they are able to do the things that they need to do. I haven’t seen that anywhere else in Australia.
“Anybody thinking about a career in psychiatry would be very well served coming here and experiencing the enthusiasm and being part of a program that is improving things for the community.”
It’s the sense of community in the north that forms part of the appeal for Dr Gileppa, who works across the Atherton Tablelands and in Mossman near Cairns,
“The longer you work in those small towns the more you get an understanding of how the actual town functions. You do start to feel like part of the fabric of the town.”