Dr Naomi Wall

A GP who has worked in in rural and remote communities all over Australia. Dr Wall has now settled in Murray Bridge, 100kms from Adelaide on Ngarrindjeri Country. 

Listen to Naomi’s story below.

What did you do prior to rural general practice and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health?

Medicine is my second career. When I finished school, I went and did a science degree and specialised in geology. I became an exploration geologist and went to the northwest of Western Australia and then into the Norther Territory, mostly Top End, some in central Australia and then finally to Queensland. All rural or remote. That was seven years and that gave me a terrific appreciation of some of the issues at hand, and also proved to me that if I was going to do this, because medicine had always been in the background, if I was going to do this, I knew why I was doing it, which was to go and work in rural and remote. It gave me the direction.

I came back to Adelaide to do medicine at Flinders and then after that I went back to Western Australia. I applied for the rural GP training program at that time through WAGPET [Western Australian General Practice Education and Training]. I wasn't in WA much longer than that and headed off to rural Tasmania to start my training. After Tasmania, I did some more training, more hospital time because I realised quickly that if you want to go out and be useful, you need lots of good emergency skills. So I went back and did another 18 months of emergency. After that I went to Broken Hill and did a year with the RFDS [Royal Flying Doctor Service]. And that took me all through western New South Wales and northern South Australia, and that was really solidifying this interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. The path was set.

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

I've tried lots of different things and I think the truth of it is I love Aboriginal health and I prefer it in a rural setting. I love the fact you have the time to get to know people. I love the community. I love being part of something. I feel really privileged with the things people share with me. I feel like I’ve been invited to the table, which is a lovely position to be in. Our consults are long, we have time, we get to know people, we get to understand all the determinants of health, not just an absence of ill health. We get to consider mental health, social injustice, workforce opportunities, ongoing institutionalised racism, all sorts of things, Stolen Generations. We get to see and have time to consider the impacts of all of these. And I think that's where you start to get some gains, when people feel the trust to be able to share their life story with you then that's when you can actually start to come up with client centric goals, objectives, treatments. I think that's what I love, most of all about it.

Can you describe the diversity of services provided?

I work for an organisation called Moorundi at the moment. It is a fabulous organisation. They've treated me extremely well and I like their outlook for clients – it’s incredibly client driven. They've got a strong Board, who know what they want. So everything is Board focused, which I love. That means we're actually representing their wishes and it means that priorities are constantly being reviewed and renewed.

We have a terrific team of Aboriginal health practitioners who are extraordinarily enthusiastic and motivated and dedicated. We've also got social and emotional wellbeing so we've got some amazing counsellors. We've also got drug and alcohol workers, a mental health nurse. We link closely with podiatry. We've got a optometrist who comes and helps us out on a regular basis. Moorundi supports a lot of other things as well, so we've got a strong healthy eating program at the moment, health promotion. They support the Deadly Nannas, which is a performing singing group made up of senior Ngarrindjeri women. Not only that they are an incredible resource to strengthen the community, they help with mentoring. We've got various other projects going, you know throughout the community, working with people. The deadly fun runs, supported by Moorundi staff, all sorts of things, every facet of life; we've got day care, a community playgroup. Across the board it's brilliant.

Do you have a memorable patient or patient story that you can share?

I have seen some incredibly interesting clients, people who have been from all walks of life. People have been senior statesman, people who have been literally across the board, people have been musicians, people have been authors, people have been you know university lecturers, sharing their story which I feel incredibly privileged to have heard.

I’ve had pets come in for things. The weirdest, I suppose, was probably a penguin. Somebody brought a penguin in that had been bitten by a dog. They said ‘Your patient is in such and such a room’, and I went looking for a person I couldn't find. The patient was wrapped in a pillowcase.

It's been at all sorts of things. I’ve seen newborn babies born, with the women singing the baby into the world. All sorts of things that are just beautiful in in rural and remote settings. I’ve also seen some terrible trauma as part of the RFDS. I have seen it both ways. It's been an amazing experience that I’ve been so lucky.

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

I think rural communities tend to be really friendly and much more inclusive than when you move to the city and you don't know anyone. For me and my family, I like the smaller communities. They're different pace of life, where you know the lady who delivers the mail and you know the man at the supermarket. When you go through the checkout and you buy the toilet paper that isn't on special they go and get you the one that is on special: ‘I couldn't possibly have you spend money on something that you didn't have to.’

I like the accountability as well, that if you say something's not right, you fix it yourself, and you know you're expected as part of the community to do that. You know, picking up litter, and things like that. You belong to the community, which means you respect the community, and I think that's really important.

I love the opportunity to be in the landscape, to be outdoors you know we live about four minutes’ walk from the Murray River and about eight minutes’ walk from the Southern Ocean at Goolwa Beach. So we're always in one or the other. You know lots of opportunity to be outside, to be camping, to be bush walking, to be sailing, to be kayaking and swimming. It means it's a really outdoorsy upbringing for children and I think that helps us all stay grounded. I think it also helps us connect with the land, and obviously the land is important to Aboriginal and Torres Islander clients, but I think it's really helpful if we appreciate it as well, because that you know, shared understanding.

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