CAREER PASSION: Dr Lyndal Phelps is encouraging other residents of regional areas to study and practise medicine in rural Australia.
CAREER PASSION: Dr Lyndal Phelps is encouraging other residents of regional areas to study and practise medicine in rural Australia. Contributed

Southern Downs doctor wants more country kids in medicine

A SOUTHERN Downs doctor is urging more rural students to study medicine to boost long-term staff in regional areas.

Stanthorpe Hospital medical officer and GP registrar Lyndal Phelps said the high turnover of staff in rural practices was no solution for patients with long-term chronic conditions.

Having grown up in Byron Bay, Dr Phelps studied at Griffith University on the Gold Coast which gave her an opportunity to return to regional areas.

"I was always interested in doing that kind of medicine as a doctor and getting back to a small rural town," she said.

"While I was studying, I had my opportunity in third year to do my clinical placement in Stanthorpe, and then Goondiwindi in my fourth year.

"For training I had to work at a larger centre so I went to Toowoomba Hospital for two years and Ipswich for another year and, during that time, I came back to Stanthorpe for a three- month placement and a six-week relieving position.

"For me getting that kind of exposure to rural medicine as a student wasn't even a question."

The Federal Government is set to begin a review of the distribution of medical school places in Australia, with a focus on encouraging more doctors to train and ultimately practise in rural and remote areas.

Dr Phelps said previous strategies to make rural placements compulsory had limited success in bringing a greater number of doctors to regional centres.

"It's easy enough to get doctors to come out for a year or two while they're training but it doesn't fill the gap in the long term," she said.

"Lots of students, particularly international students, have no interest in being uprooted from their family in the city.

"There needs to be a better solution and I think it's about where a person comes from and where they want to remain.

"There needs to be more of a draw for rural students to go to medical school in the first place because they'll be the ones who stay.

"What drew me back to Stanthorpe was having met my now-husband and having a baby so it's felt like a fairly seamless transition in terms of family support.

"Professionally, the biggest difference would be the lack of resources, difference in skillset of the doctors and distance to a tertiary centre, and the impacts on personal life.

"That being said in a smaller community it's so good to have long-term care of your patients and know them personally, which is why having doctors stick around for longer is so vital."



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