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6 December 2022

Discovering a rewarding specialty close to home

Discovering a rewarding specialty close to home

Principal House Officer, Dr Renee Brown, grew up in the small rural cane-farming town of Ingham in northern Queensland. While her two siblings would go into the family signwriting business, Dr Brown knew from childhood that medicine was the path for her.

Training has taken Dr Brown across Northern Queensland and now, after completing an internship at Cairns Hospital, she has relocated to Townsville and commutes to Ingham Hospital. Recently, she shared some of her favourite parts of medicine, her training experience in the North and her advice to fellow junior doctors.

What inspired you to choose a career in medicine?

I knew early on that medicine was the career for me. My decision to become a doctor was driven by my inherent fascination with the human body and the idea of being a part of a profession focused on helping others. 

I completed my dual Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree through James Cook University. I attended the Townsville campus for my non-clinical years, before moving to Cairns to complete the final three years of my studies.

What do you love most about being a doctor, and is there a particular specialty that is standing out to you so far?

I love that working in Medicine is unpredictable, interesting, challenging, and profoundly rewarding. I like a bit of everything – which is why I chose general practice. I was successful in securing a college position with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) on the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) program in 2020. Recently, I have completed the hospital requirements. I will be commencing the next part of my training, as a General Practice registrar, at Bluewater Medical Practice, just outside of Townsville, in 2023, while continuing to work part-time at Ingham Hospital. I have my site set on becoming a Rural Generalist.

What is one of your biggest learnings in medicine since graduating? 

I can’t go past my first day on the job when I made my debut as the first assistant for an emergency caesarean section. I was on my Obstetrics and Gynaecology term and there was a COVID-19 baby boom happening. The registrar needed a first assistant for an emergency caesarean section.  I had been the second assistant more than twenty times. So, during my first day as a real doctor, I made my debut as a first assistant. After the delivery, I went back to the Birth Suite and helped to manage three consecutive emergencies – foetal distress requiring a prompt instrumental delivery, a simultaneous neonatal resuscitation and postpartum haemorrhage, and shoulder dystocia followed by a postpartum haemorrhage. Thankfully, everybody was okay. It was incredible. Terrifying. But incredible. 

What is the best thing about working in a regional hospital? 

Not discounting the unique pathology and fantastic learning opportunities,  I would say the best thing about working in a regional hospital, like Cairns Hospital, is the camaraderie. I think the support, from other junior doctors, registrars, and consultants is so much stronger than what you would expect in a large hospital. Most mornings at Cairns Hospital were structured around team coffee at The Hut, discussing the interesting presentations from the latest melioidosis and leptospirosis outbreaks.

What is the type of unique pathology you could expect as a doctor in Cairns and how has this contributed to your development as a doctor?

The Cairns Hospital and Health Service is responsible for a population of around 250,000. Many of them are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities. Obviously, there are distinct tropical diseases that are unique to Far North Queensland. However, it was the severity of the diseases that I found the most enthralling. The learnings from my time spent working in the Cairns region will remain an integral part of my diagnostic process and management planning, especially as I now work just down the road. Furthermore, being witness to the complications of some of the common diseases that impact our most vulnerable community members really highlighted the importance of holistic health care to me.

What is your advice to medical students and other junior doctors?

The days can go from pleasant to chaotic in a matter of seconds. So, my advice to future doctors is always, always, always prioritise your own health and well-being. It is easy to get sucked into the hustle and bustle and it takes a lot of effort to establish and maintain a healthy work-life balance. What you do with your time outside of work is completely up to you, but I encourage you to continue to do all the things that fill your own cup. Take care of yourself, not just so that you can continue to take care of others, but so you can enjoy doing so!

Far north Queensland; where a rewarding medical career meets tropical holiday lifestyle. Through NQRTH, medical students and junior doctors are discovering for themselves the hands-on training experience, job satisfaction, research opportunities and adventure on offer in northern Queensland.

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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.

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