John Flynn Placement – Inglewood

Here is a John Flynn Placement Program (JFPP) experience recount from Charmaine Han-Menz who has been doing placement in Inglewood over the last two years…

As I stepped off the plane from Melbourne to Brisbane, I was greeted with thick humidity, reminding me that I was not in a familiar place. The forecast for the next two weeks in Inglewood was above 30°C with no signs of rain. I wondered how I would cope, let alone how farmers would be coping. The bus ride to Inglewood took a couple of hours and my community host took me to my home for the next 2 weeks in the nurses’ residential area and introduced me to the hospital staff. I was technically placed at the general practice three minutes away but could also join the GP-run ward rounds before clinic. This hospital was tiny. It consisted of 8 beds to service the 1,000 people of Inglewood. It was unlike any town I had ever been in and was even more remote than I expected, especially in comparison to my other friends in the program.

Further into my placement, I realised that no one else could have been luckier than me. The general practice had three doctors who all welcomed me warmly and the 3:1 doctor to student ratio was unheard of. Depending on their schedules, I would rotate between the doctors and sit in on their consultations, witnessing the different ways they would interact with patients and approach issues. Knowing that I was only a Year A student, they were extremely patient with me and walked me through basics such as lung sounds, heart sounds, management strategies and pharmacology. Dr Owen was my official mentor and worked part time in the clinic. Despite being over 80 years old, he moved like a spring chicken and had served the Inglewood community for over 40 years. He was a celebrity in the town, and when I entered his room, I realised he was also a celebrity in the medical field. Plaques depicting his presidency in the RACGP, contribution to the rural medical community and Australian Order decorated his walls. More importantly than this, Dr Owen was a kind and genuine person – a tree enthusiast who made efforts to explain everything I did not understand and involve me during meetings and consultations. There was nothing more humbling than witnessing a doctor with his reputation treat such a junior medical student with warmth, respect and encouragement.

As the only medical student in town, I was completely in charge of which opportunities I wanted to take advantage of. The days were extremely long and I opted to be called after hours if there was something interesting in ED. I conducted many histories, examinations, scrubbed in for minor surgeries, sutured incisions, created casts, learnt how to use a dermatoscope and identify different cancers, gave injections, sat in on diabetic management consultations, discussed difficult cases, joined a sports therapist community event, visited the aged care, did town rounds with a community nurse and witnessed a dietician led program. I couldn’t have asked for more. The best thing about this experience was how it cemented my passion in medicine. I couldn’t believe what doctors were capable of doing and what medicine could achieve. I was so humbled and amazed, which made every struggling moment of my study worth it.  I can honestly recall multiple cases where I was dumbfounded, with my jaw hanging underneath my mask. I didn’t want to leave.

It was clear that my clinical experience exceeded expectations. I had amazing mentors who not only helped me with my clinical skills, but also took me out on dinners, lunches, to Toowoomba and to Brisbane. I listened to their stories about how medicine impacted their life and reflected on how it would impact mine. However, being an outsider was socially quite difficult for me. In rural areas, conversations revolved around their shared mutual contacts which I could not relate to. I endeavoured to change this in my next visit.

My next placement a year later was quite different. I had another medical student from Melbourne University with me and one of the clinic’s doctors invited me to stay in their home during this placement. This made the social issues a lot less difficult. However, as it frequently happens in rural medicine, a doctor had moved on and his position was taken by locum doctors who rotated every couple of months. Fortunately, they were happy to mentor us. As I had developed my clinical skills further after finishing Year 3B, I was deemed responsible enough to hold parallel consultations. This was a fantastic experience to set me up for my GP placements in Year 4C. I was able to present every patient I saw and suggest a management plan, yet still receive support when needed. I thoroughly enjoyed my time inside and outside the clinic.

Unfortunately, the doctor who took care of me the most is now moving to another clinic, which leaves the clinic solely with Dr Owen as a part time worker. It is amazing how the rural environment changes so quickly. I am not sure what to expect in my visit next year but I am sure this will be another beneficial experience to add to my development. Overall, my Inglewood placement has left me with many memories and I am keen to go back into the community and show my mentors all the things I have learnt after Year 4C.

Applications for the 2020 JFPP will open at 9:00am (AEST) Monday 27 April to 5:00pm (AEST) Wednesday 6 May.

You can find out more information and apply through the JFPP website.

In addition Rural Workforce Agency Victoria (RWAV) recorded an information session about the program which can be viewed here.