Dr Laura Fitzgerald

Choose to be a GP > Experiences > Dr Laura Fitzgerald

A Muruwari woman from NSW and the southwestern area of Queensland. Dr Fitzgerald is a New Fellow who completed her GP training in Sydney and then decided to locum around Australia to work for her people and expand her experience in Aboriginal health.

Tell me about your current role and what you're doing at the moment

I’m a GP locum working in Tennant Creek at the AMS, Anyinigyi. I’ve been here for three weeks so far, but I’ve been locuming around Australia for about 18 months now. I’ve been to Port Augusta in South Australia, Carnarvon in Western Australia, Warwick in Queensland, Ouyen in Victoria, Kempsey in New South Wales, Hobart in Tasmania and Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. Next, I’m either going to be in Katherine or flying in and out of Alice Springs doing remote work.

What triggered you to go into locuming?

I just finished my exams and I wanted to travel a bit, because I hadn't had a chance to. I was meant to be moving overseas, but COVID happened. So then I figured, let's see Australia, and it's been amazing. Everywhere you go is completely different to the place before.

What made you decide to choose general practice, and specifically, Aboriginal health?

I really enjoy having a relationship with my patients and seeing them from start to finish. I knew right from when I was a medical student and experienced general practice that I wanted to do this. As soon as I got into hospital, I realised it was not for me and that cemented my decision to become a GP. You can make it what you want, and you get to decide what kind of patients you see and how often you work. Being Aboriginal myself, I’ve always had an interest in working for my people, so I decided to work in rural and remote areas to expand my experience.

What do you enjoy most about working in Aboriginal health?

Patients in Aboriginal health are very honest and they’ll tell you if what you’re doing is not working. What you see is what you get. So it’s really rewarding, and when they start trusting you and getting to know you and you get to know them, they treat you like family. So you actually get to make a huge impact if you have a good relationship with people. I know that sounds like a cliché, but you get to see that small changes make the biggest impact.

What do you think are the benefits of living and working in Aboriginal health and in rural and remote locations?

I think you get a real sense of community. It seems like there's nothing to do when you first come to a town, but then once you get into the community it just becomes busier than what you are in the city area. Patients are really appreciative as well. You see people at their best and worst in rural health, and you get to be there and help them, which is actually really nice.

What do you do in your spare time?

Every community is slightly different. I usually figure out exactly what the local community does and do that. I like walking, so I try to walk around the town and do some exploring. In Tennant Creek last week, we did a car rally, which is like a big scavenger hunt across the whole town that everyone was involved in; you got dressed up for it. In the past year I’ve done a lot of extra special stuff, including swimming with sea lions.

If you had to pick one memorable experience, what would it be?

Just recently, I was in Carnarvon in Western Australia about 900 km north of Perth and a patient came in really short of breath and not doing well. We called the ambulance and they said it would be four hours before they could get to us. So I became a paramedic and we had to find a way to get someone on oxygen and in our car. It was stressful, but we managed to get them to the hospital.

Could you tell me about the diversity of services provided in AMS?

Most services have Aboriginal health practitioners or health workers and a team of nurses who see the patient before the GP sees them, so there’s a bit of a triage. Particularly out here in remote areas, they can also treat patients without having to see us as well if we’re busy. Then the GPs come in and do the rest of the consult from what the team has told you already. Then there’s a whole team of visiting physios, visiting dietitians, visiting optometrists. Some places have visiting specialists as well, so you've got a cardiologist that is connected to it or [a] respiratory [doctor]. There are a lot of diabetes educators as well. As a GP, you have to know a bit of everything and do everything. My procedures have gone up. I’ve seen lots of sutures, lots of wound care, lots of skin infections and boils, so you get quite good at that as well. I’ve also seen a lot of rheumatic heart disease.

What is the most interesting thing you've learnt from a patient?

One of the most amazing experiences that I had was in Port Augusta. We were working out in Nepabunna and Copley communities, which are really remote. The patients started trusting me and I learnt some of the sacred stories and they took me around to a few sacred sites as well. I knew these stories were special and that not everyone gets told them. They also taught me how to look for bush tucker on the side of the road, like bush bananas and things like that, so that was amazing.

Do you have any advice for other people, considering a career in rural medicine and also in Aboriginal health?

If you’re considering it, try it! Starting with locuming helps a lot, because you're not signing up for the rest of your life or a five-year contract. Locuming in rural and remote areas has made my skills 10 times better and it’s a lot of fun, so I encourage you to get out there and experience it for yourself.

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