The attraction to rural medicine is steadily increasing, with students and clinicians making the long march to places such as Alice Springs.
One is Jean Pepperill (pictured) who was born in Barrow Creek and identifies as a Kaytetye woman.
Jean has returned to help her community after spending many years in Brisbane and Darwin.
“It was a really happy accident that I ended up here,” she says.
“I was living in Brisbane. I never thought I’d be able to do my entire medical degree in the Territory, let alone spend so much time in Alice Springs.”
This will be Jean’s second year in Alice, and her final year of medical studies before she takes on the immense task of internship.
“In Alice you see amazing varieties of rural and remote health. You work in multi-disciplinary teams and I’ve seen clinicians and students work very hard for their patients.”
Illnesses endemic (regularly found) to this region include rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease which cause sometimes fatal heart damage; and strongyloides, a parasite that likes to infest people by penetrating their skin, and that without treatment may leave them infected for life.
Jean feels it’s easy to connect with patients, and that she does so differently to other students, not only because she is from the area but also because she is an Aboriginal woman.
She expects her internship to be made harder by rural locations, dealing with remoteness, and fewer resources.
There is not always the opportunity to treat patients the way a doctor would desire, Jean says, due to limited resources.
“People often have to get flown interstate for treatment, and it doesn’t always work out for the best. Patients with certain heart conditions need surgeries that can only be done in places like Adelaide, and the patients often do not want to or cannot afford to travel.”
It’s situations such as these which Jean finds hard, but the passionate people who love to live in places like Alice Springs help her feel that the job is worthwhile.
“I’m inspired every day by clinicians at this hospital. People like Dr Simon Quilty just have such a wonderful manner with patients and can step outside of the biomedical model of health and address patients holistically.”
Dr Quilty is credited with cofounding a highly successful outreach program in Katherine, reducing the burden of patient travel.
“I was privileged to work with him last year and look forward to doing so in the future.”
Jean will spend six months of 2020 at the Alice Springs Hospital, and three months in Gove, and is looking forward to getting involved in the communities.