Dr Melanie Matthews

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Dr Melanie Matthews is the New Fellow representative for the RACGP Rural Council. She currently lives and works on Kunibídji land in west Arnhem Land. She shared her story during the webinar ‘Become a rural GP: Aboriginal health and remote opportunities’ in April 2021.

What triggered this career path for you?

During medical school, I was fortunate enough to get into the John Flynn Placement Program and I chose to come to the Northern Territory and did placements in Nhulunbuy in east Arnhem Land, Groote Eylandt. This sparked a love of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. I did my GP training in the NT through the AGPT [Australian General Practice Training] pathway at NTGPE [Northern Territory General Practice Education] RACGP. After that, I did my Fellowship in Advanced Remote General Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. I did a community project on medical termination of pregnancy and set up a service In Nhulunbuy, which had never been available before. It’s something that I am proud of.

What do you enjoy most about rural medicine and working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health?

One of the things that I love about working remote is the team environment. It is not doctor-centric, it is about working in a team of very experienced remote area nurses, allied health professionals, Aboriginal health workers, and community workers. They are some of the most important people that we work with. They know the community and they help us bring people in, interpret, help us with cultural issues and are integral to providing the best healthcare we can.

What are the benefits and challenges of living and working in your location?

Maningrida is the largest remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, with a population of approximately 3500. Maningrida does not have a hospital, so we manage everything that walks in the door. It is a six-hour drive from Darwin. Three hours of that is on unsealed roads, and in the wet season we are completely cut off. We cannot drive anywhere for about six months of the year, so we have to fly. Luckily, we have two flights a day with Air North.

Describe the diversity of services provided

The scope of what I see is incredible. I see all the common things; for example, diabetes is highly prevalent, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and heart disease; however, there are things that are more specific to remote areas, such as rheumatic heart disease. I often will make the joke that … in medical school you are sort of taught horses before zebras, but sometimes up here it feels like zebras before horses, because the stuff that we see is just incredible. The job is can be very challenging at times. I have had to deal with some traumatic things, but at the same time, I have skills that I would not have if I was working in a city. It is a great, varied job and I really love the people that I work with.

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