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9 May 2022

North Queensland: A Paradise in Medical Research

With a whole new level of responsibility, and a lot still to learn, the working life of a junior doctor can be full-on. If you aren’t currently involved in research, the prospect of adding such an undertaking to an already busy schedule can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. As medical students and junior doctors alike are discovering for themselves, northern Queensland is a paradise in medical research.

Complementing your hands-on training experiences, you can grow as a doctor by conducting research aimed at improving the health outcomes of our regional, rural, remote, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Right across our region, there are opportunities to get involved in a diverse range of translational, high impact research initiatives with James Cook University (JCU), Hospital and Health Services, and institutes including AITHM and TAAHC.

By helping improve lives through research in northern Queensland, you can also shape your training pathway and career in medicine. Here’s how:

1. Research in NQ offers opportunities to investigate unique health issues affecting the Tropics

Northern Queensland is a region of varying landscapes and demographics, and with this comes a range of health issues affecting our communities. There are a number of diseases and other health issues that occur uniquely, are more widespread or prove more difficult to control in Tropical and subtropical regions like northern Queensland.

Cardiologist Dr Anthony Brazzale and the Cairns & Hinterland Hospital & Health Service (CHHHS) Cardiac Unit are currently conducting research into the outcomes of Patent Foramen Ovale Closure (PFO) procedures on scuba divers with a hole in their hearts. Dr Brazzale says this type of project presents an excellent opportunity for junior doctors.

“Here in Cairns, we’re probably doing the most PFO closures in the country. We have a unique area up here in the Tropics, and we have a lot of divers here, so it provides these unique opportunities.

“Junior doctors are collecting data and we help them with the write-up. From medical students to advanced trainees, there are all levels of training involved in research with our unit. If you show the initiative and you’re motivated, as consultants we will always look to support you,” Dr Brazzale says.

Making the process easier for clinicians to get involved in research is the Tropical Australian Academic Health Centre (TAAHC). The centre is a collaboration between northern Queensland’s five Hospital and Health Services, the Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN), JCU and AITHM.

Through an emphasis on translational research, the TAAHC partnership is designed to enhance collective capability in health service delivery, health and medical research and workforce development. The centre also offers funding schemes for clinicians and clinicians, from micro-funding to major Fellowship scheme. Find out more about how TAAHC is funding research in northern Queensland.

2. Research in NQ can help your medical specialty training application stand out

The application process for medical specialty training can be extremely competitive. Some colleges accept just a handful of trainees each intake. Seeking out research opportunities as a medical student or junior doctor can help open the door to your dream medical specialty.

Dr Kate Swift is a junior doctor at CHHHS who can attest to what research involvement can do for your training pathway prospects. With the support of senior clinicians and academics from JCU, she has been investigating the incidence rates of appendicitis in Far North Queensland.

“JCU and Prof Alan de Costa have been very supportive these last two years. The research project has actually facilitated my entry into the training program.

Dr Swift was the first author of the research publication published in the ANZ Journal of Surgery in December last year. She commenced general surgery specialty training at CHHHS in January 2022.

Dr Brazzale echoes the sentiments of the benefit of research in your application process.

“Research can help you in the application process because it demonstrates initiative. You don’t have to do an independent study that gets published in the Lancet, you just need to get involved. It could be an audit or poster presentation at a national meeting,” Dr Brazzale says.

3. Research in NQ can connect you with leading clinicians and researchers

Right across northern Queensland, there are senior doctors and researchers with decades of experience who can guide junior doctors in their training and research endeavours.

Townsville University Hospital junior doctor Tejas Singh has published more than 30 peer-reviewed research articles aimed at improving the management and outcomes for patients with vascular diseases.

Dr Singh has conducted his award-winning PhD research under the mentorship of Professor Jonathan Golledge, an academic vascular surgeon and international leader in peripheral artery disease. Professor Golledge heads the Queensland Research Centre for Peripheral Vascular Disease (QRC-PVD), located at Townsville University Hospital (TUH) and JCU.

“The support and research infrastructure available at QRC-PVD, JCU, have been instrumental in my PhD.

“There’s ample opportunity to collaborate with other researchers nationally and internationally,” Dr Singh said of the Townsville-based PhD program.

Dr Singh credits the Townsville University Hospital’s supportive environment and the breadth of clinical opportunities as two of the great advantages of training in Townsville.

“As a junior doctor at Townsville University Hospital, you get more hands-on experience and opportunities to develop clinical independence in comparison to metropolitan hospitals,” he said.

4. Research in NQ is well supported

Respected institutions like JCU and AITHM are dedicated to northern Queensland and provide opportunities for students and doctors who want to help make a difference in the health of our regions.

Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) is Australia’s only dedicated health and tropical medicine research institute. Based at JCU, AITHM focuses on diseases of high burden in the tropics, tropical health security and strengthening health systems. ATHM has research facilities in Cairns, Townsville, Thursday Island and Mackay.

One way you can pursue research as a clinician is through the JCU AITHM Cohort Doctoral Studies Program. One of the first of its kind in Australia, the Cohort Program offered clinicians like Townsville-based medical oncologist Dr Sabe Sabesan the support, resources, and networking opportunities to conduct postgraduate research.

“The launch of the Cohort Program was really good timing,” Dr Sabesan says. “It enabled us to examine our model of care while using research as a mechanism to develop the evidence base to demonstrate our impact.”

“The Cohort Program gave us a methodology and a proven framework. The PhD process also strengthened different writing skills for me, which has led to writing policy for the state government.

“From this project, you can see the legacy impact of clinician-led innovations on the broader health system and the broader communities.”

Across the regions that NQRTH works in, there are a number of other leading research institutes:

      • Mackay Institute of Research and Innovation(MIRI) facilitates research and drives innovation for the delivery of evidence and value-based, patient-centred care across Mackay Health and Hospital Service. MIRI supports clinical trials and is active in the new TeleTrial concept involving regional and rural hospitals and health services in northern Queensland.
      • Murtupuni Centre for Rural & Remote Health(MCRRH) aims to build a healthy community and a skilled workforce in and for rural and remote Queensland through education and research. It is the foundation University Department of Rural Health in Queensland and spans more than half of Queensland, including the Central West.
      • Townsville Institute of Health Research and Innovation(TIHRI), a purpose-built research facility at Townsville University Hospital, supports and translates research into innovative, high-quality patient care. Find Townsville HHS specialty research groups and contacts here.

Discover more about what makes northern Queensland a paradise in medical research. On Thursday, May 12, NQRTH is hosting a webinar ‘Medical Research for doctors in training in NQ’ as part of our five-part 2023 Queensland Medical Recruitment Campaign webinar series. Find out more or register your attendance now.

Medical Research for doctors in training in NQ

Northern Queensland is a research paradise for doctors-in-training. Diverse and unique investigation areas, funding availability and a high level of support are some highlights of completing medical research in this part of the world.

Hear from senior medical researchers currently working and living in Northern Queensland and doctors-in-training following a career in research. Learn about research opportunities and facilities available in the region from an expert panel.

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.

Cairns region
(07) 4226 8187

Central West region
(07) 4764 1547

Mackay region
(07) 4885 7122

North West region
(07) 4764 1547

Torres and Cape region
(07) 4095 6103

Townsville region
(07) 4781 3424