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15 Jun 2017

By Dr Sandra Hirowatari, Chair, AMA Council of Rural Doctors

Far North Queensland – Cairns – was the meeting place of the 5th World Summit on rural Generalist Medicine and the 14th Rural WONCA conference last month. Nearly one thousand delegates from 38 countries. All there to discuss Rural Health. Rural doctors like you and me.

So if you are feeling alone out there, out bush and distanced from urban life, you are not alone. Every country in the world has a rural region and rural health issues.

And every country has us, the steadfast rural doctor. Even high density countries such as Japan has over 400 “outback” islands that are a Flying Doctor’s distance away from a tertiary center.

So we gathered to compare, learn, innovate, and extend a warm welcome to each other. For many, English was a second language. The themes throughout were resilience, rural courage, collegial connections and patient-centered care. Workforce distribution was also a big theme.

The Japanese were astounded by our numbers and the support we have garnered from fellow colleagues, colleges and the government. They are just starting to gain support and recognition for the Japanese Rural Generalist concept, just starting to enlist rural registrars. At this conference the opening of their Rural Generalist program was announced. One thing they do have that we don’t is a weekly TV series of a heroic Japanese rural doctor who performs all sorts of medical miracles using only rural resources, very uplifting if you understand Japanese.

The Canadians said, “these Australian consider Rural Health so important they even have a MINISTER for Rural Health (Dr David Gillespie), wow.” The Canadians seconded an Australian native (Dr Roger Strasser) to be the founding Dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, a new Rural Medical school in their Outback.

African countries in their vivid headdress and clothing stood tall in their pride for the work they do with their limited resources and manpower. They are painfully aware that a number of their colleagues each year disappear from their workforce to work in developed countries. One African/Australian registrar really impressed me with her intention to say “no” to the lucrative rewards here in Australia to return after training to her native land to bring her Outback expertise to outback Africa.

Be proud of the fact Australia is a “go-to” country with the most progress with Rural programs and the main innovators of the Rural Generalist program.

We could learn from enthusiastic, new generation doctors such as the delegate from Brazil who is the brainstorm behind Rural Cafe. Go to this cafe from 3 different directions Facebook(@ruralfamilymedicinecafe), Twitter (#RuralCafe) and YouTube (Rural Family Medicine Café). It is international and feels like having a cup of coffee in the safety of a collegial cafe. You cannot feel alone there. Bring your coffee.

For your sanity and to prevent the feeling of isolation, plan to be at any Rural Medicine conference in the future. The energy, the collegiality and sense of pride is well worth your precious downtime. Here are some suggestions: 

  1. Rural Medicine Australia (RMA) Melbourne, 19, 20, 21 October 2017. Theme Climate Change and Health;
  2. 15th WONCA Rural Health Conference, South Asia Rural health conference (WRHC), New Delhi, 26, 27, 28, 29 April 2018; and
  3. 26th Annual Rural and Remote Medicine Course of the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRCP), St John’s Newfoundland, 12,13,14 April 2018.

 Hope to see you at one of these venues.


Published: 15 Jun 2017