Dr Kelly McIntosh

A GP in training (GPiT) living and working on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait Islands. Dr McIntosh was the recipient of RACGP Queensland Faculty’s 2020GP in Training of the Year Award.

Dr Kelly McIntosh

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your current role?

I am working on Thursday Island as a GP registrar. Four out of five days I’m in the general practice seeing patients, and one out of five days I’m in the hospital doing what we call the phone role, which involves taking phone calls from nurses on the outer islands about patients they're seeing that day and then managing those patients over the phone. In addition to that, we do one ‘on call’ a fortnight from 5 pm until 8 am the next day; you're on call for the emergency department, as well as for the outer islands.

What triggered this career path for you?

I grew up in Zimbabwe, and whilst I didn't live in rural Zimbabwe, the part of the country that I did grow up in was certainly quite comparable to aspects of rural Australia in both the community feel and the healthcare. I remember moving to Australia when I was 14 and immediately feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the city life, so there was always that tendency to move out of the city at some stage. When I was a medical student, I remember as a first year listening to someone speak to us about the rural generalist pathway. I remember clearly sitting there thinking, this is what I want to do, this sounds exactly what I would love. I didn't apply until I was a fourth-year student, when I still wanted to do rural general practice. 

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

There is such a diverse range of healthcare needs, and because there are no specialists based in the region, you are quite heavily involved in every aspect of your patient’s healthcare, from investigation of any symptoms, to diagnoses, to the management of that condition. Working in a community that can be described as vulnerable in terms of health opens the opportunity to do potentially life-altering preventative care. It's truly humbling to be accepted and trusted by community, getting to know people, going out and about and seeing all these people that you know and care for … I just really, really love it.

Did you have any expectations of working in rural or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health?

The context of health in Indigenous communities is so massive. Sometimes being a doctor, you think you're the person who knows best, but more often than not, what you know is just a small piece of the puzzle in someone's health story. It's constantly at the forefront of my mind that this is not my culture or my community. It's a big privilege for me to be welcomed into this community and to be trusted. Having that approach to each patient has changed the way I practice. It has helped to develop some beautiful relationships and great healthcare.

Could you describe the diversity of services provided, and the skills and roles of different health professionals or health workers and the breadth of responsibilities?

Thursday Island is where the hospital and where most of our staff are based. We also oversee the healthcare on 15 outer islands and work quite closely with the Bamaga team at the tip of Australia. We have anywhere from about 15 doctors who are based on Thursday Island working in three primary areas of work: obstetrics, anaesthetics and general practice. There is diversity in terms of skills. I've done advanced skills in emergency medicine, and my husband is currently doing advanced skills in mental health, so we'll add that skill to the community. We've got a fantastic group of health workers and community health teams as well.

What do you do in your spare time?

Boating is massive up here; nearly everyone has a boat. The Torres Strait Islanders are incredible boaters, the best seafarers I’ve ever seen in my life. We bought a boat when we arrived here and we are very amateur boaters, but we are slowly figuring out how it's done. We go to some of the islands that are very nearby, and you can have a swim in the sea or a picnic on the beach; you can camp on the beaches as well. It's a very relaxed kind of lifestyle.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering a career in rural medicine?

My biggest piece of advice is to go out and experience it and see if it's for you. There's nothing I could imagine doing other than this. I love everything about it, but that's not to say that everyone's going to feel that way. You're not going to know unless you actually give it a go. From my experience, as a medical student and as an intern, there are so many opportunities to get experience in a rural area. Whether you are thinking about rural medicine or not, I think it's a great experience.

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