Dr Janelle Trees is a descendant of the Dhanggati clan from Walcha in NSW. She shared her experiences as a remote GP locum during a webinar ‘Become a rural GP: Aboriginal health and remote opportunities’ in April 2021.
Dr Trees completed her medical degree with honours in 2005. Her medical education led her to general practice, and her love and respect for the country is one of the reasons she was determined to work in rural and remote communities. Her career in rural and remote medicine has given her a deep respect for not only her profession, but also her patients and their cultures.
‘It is one of the most interesting networks of cultures in the world. It is a privilege to be able to work with Aboriginal peoples. I value and treasure all of my patients and understand they all have their own stories to tell’.’
Now a locum GP, Dr Trees goes where she is needed, anywhere from a week to three months.
There can be challenges, as systems change from place to place, and you have to navigate new rules for pathology and where people go for X-rays. But there are good resources available and support on the end of the phone to take you through even the most basic of cases.
The challenges extend to managing your personal relationships. Doing locum work can be difficult on families. For Dr Trees, the role has been helped by her wife Claudia’s job as a landscape and wildlife photographer, which is well suited to the locum lifestyle and remote locations.
She has also learnt to ask important survival questions and to prepare to support remote living in a diversity of locations, about internet connection, electricity, air conditioning and so on.
‘There are some good things about being a locum. You are able to choose where you go and choose when you are working. You can still form long-term relationships with your clients and your colleagues when you do locum work.’
Her advice to others thinking about a career in rural medicine and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is to not get not to be too daunted by the hugeness of the medicine and to embrace generalism and the learning opportunities it brings.
‘In the bush, you get a great opportunity to build on your weaknesses and your strengths and to get to know what you want to train more in, because you are exposed to so many different things. There is a lot to learn, but there is a lot of support in the learning. You get to be a really good doctor.’