Author: Morgan Liotta
Dr Michael Bartram’s roots lie in rural medicine, where he continues his parents’ legacy.
The apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Rural GP Dr Michael Bartram’s mother and father were doctors, which was one of the catalysts for him to follow in the footsteps of his role models and pursue a life in medicine.
‘I was impressed by what they were doing and the way they were doing it. They were very passionate about their work,’ he told Good Practice.
With this guidance to help lay the foundations for Dr Bartram to study medicine, he recalls his parents’ haste to also teach him that life is ‘not all beer and skittles’.
By witnessing them trying to maintain that balance between their family and professional lives, Dr Bartram felt he was at least somewhat prepared for the demands of life as a healthcare practitioner.
‘I didn’t suffer any illusions that [being a doctor] was going to be an easy job, but it made me aware of not over-committing myself along the way,’ he said.
Upon deciding on his career path, Dr Bartram moved away from his hometown of Albury, in southern New South Wales, to study medicine at the University of Newcastle, graduating in 1988. With an initial interest in paediatrics, he spent the next six years working in children’s wards and emergency departments in various hospitals around Sydney.
Soon after, Dr Bartram realised that primary healthcare was his calling. He re-admitted himself into general practice training and spent six months based in the local hospital in Coonabarabran, in north-west NSW.
This was a period Dr Bartram enjoyed, particularly as he was still able to use some of his paediatric skills.
‘On one occasion, my boss’ three-week-old daughter had bronchiolitis so they called me in. I ended up ventilating her because they realised I was up to the challenge,’ he said. ‘I think my paediatric skills were a good start to general practice – they gave me a confidence in other areas that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
‘For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with all things to do with the human body and human conditions, so general practice was really something I wanted to get in to.’
Dr Bartram continued to work in general practice around NSW, gaining valuable experience along the way. He finished his training and started a private practice in his hometown of Albury, where he has now been for close to 20 years.
‘The lifestyle in a country area is great for a young family,’ he said. ‘Our kids had plenty of opportunities and have benefitted from that over the years.
‘With my general practice training I would have been happy moving anywhere in the area, but my wife and I decided that being close to family in Albury and having opportunities for our family was an important facet.
‘And I always really enjoyed the cradle-to-grave care in general practice, having ongoing relationships with the patient over a number of years.
‘You see people grow up through good times and hard times, and share that with them. That’s the thing that stimulates me and keeps me wanting to do it.’
Once established as a rural GP in Albury, Dr Bartram became aware of a workforce shortage and issues of burnout occurring among some of his colleagues in the area.
He soon saw an opportunity to start an after-hours clinic, giving patients more healthcare choices and allowing GPs the chance to keep more regular hours.
‘I did my homework, talked to people in the neighbouring regional towns who started up a successful model,’ he said. ‘We got the GPs in town together and managed to get a grant and an after-hours clinic off the ground. We’re here 10 years later, still going strong with nearly 50 doctors on the roster.
‘I think that’s been a helpful experience for all the GPs in town and it makes family life a bit easier.’
Initiatives such as these have helped to bring Dr Bartram satisfaction in knowing that he is contributing positively to the local community.
‘[Opening the after-hours clinic is] an example of how you can see things happening in a place this size and make a difference,’ he said. ‘Being in a place this small, you can get involved, have an influence and see it all happen.’
Dr Bartram also derives great satisfaction from his involvement with general practice training, an area about which he is passionate.
‘I enjoy seeing other people get a kick out of what they are doing, hearing their enthusiasm,’ he said.
Dr Bartram regards his role as a trainer as a reciprocal one, learning skills himself while teaching the students and general practice registrars.
‘Having people who are learning and asking questions, and then seeing them grow brings me the challenge of having to keep using my knowledge and having to push myself a bit.’
He also attributes some of this experience to his fellow trainers and general practice supervisors.
‘You get advice and respect for what you do, so it’s a great team feeling,’ he said. ‘If you enthuse enough people, others step in and take over as well. Together we are teaching the art of general practice.’
Now well and truly established as a rural GP, Dr Bartram is content knowing that he is an integral part of the community of which he and his family form a key part.
‘Seeing my patients, it’s a great pleasure and a privilege, but it’s only part of what gets me up in the morning,’ he said. ‘I like to try and make sure that everyone who needs a bit of extra help has that available as well. That keeps me going.
‘It’s lovely to get some recognition of the work that you do.
‘The teaching and the time that you put into these things – it’s a life job.’