Dr Gary Wood


Journey to advocacy and healing

As we celebrate NAIDOC Week 2024, we spotlight the inspirational journey of Dr Gary Wood, a proud descendant of the Wiradjuri and Biripi nations. Gary’s story is one of resilience, advocacy, and the relentless pursuit of a better world.

Gary’s path to becoming a general practitioner (GP) is a testament to the strength and spirit of First Nations peoples and LBGTQIA2S+ communities, and Gary’s self-drive to overcome obstacles in his way. In a candid interview, Gary shares his experiences, challenges, and hopes for the future.

“I am a descendant of the Wiradjuri nation from my father and the Biripi nation from my mother,” Gary begins.

Despite his strong cultural roots, he has spent most of his life away from his traditional country. Born and raised in rural Queensland, he considers Rockhampton and Gympie home.

His academic journey took him to Naarm (Melbourne), where he attended Deakin University and the University of Melbourne. Today, he practises as an ACRRM Registrar in North East lutruwita (Tasmania), working in inpatient, emergency, and general practice settings.

Reflecting on his decision to pursue medicine, Gary speaks passionately about the health disparities between different communities.

“Growing up queer and First Nations in rural Australia, you can’t help but long for a better world,” he says.

“However, I think the health disparities between black and white, rural and city, rich and poor is really what put me on this journey.

“I have many stories, but I often think about my baby uncle who died of respiratory illness more than 40 years ago, or my cousins lost to SIDS in the 1980s and 1990s.

“These stories stay with me, always. “

The path to becoming a GP has not been without its obstacles for Gary.

“There have been more than a few challenges,” he says. “I am First Nations and queer, but I am also autistic (diagnosed well into my 30s) and I have ADHD.

“These are gifts and make me who I am, but they’re not always easy to navigate.”

Gary says that as an autistic person, he has had difficulty navigating the social norms and expectations of medical school, hospitals and colleagues.

“There is so much chaos, so many unwritten rules, and I put a lot of effort into masking to hide my authentic self in an effort to gain greater social acceptance and fit in,” he says.

“It never really worked. It was hard for me and others to see what was going on internally.

“I even experienced severe bullying at times, and many times I wanted to quit altogether.

“Additionally, during my training I would often be placed in the awkward position of not only being the most junior doctor on the team, but also the only Aboriginal person. That also created conflict.”

Gary says his decision to go down the rural generalism path was made more difficult because he was more susceptible to the external pressures which often pushes doctors towards non-GP specialist training and devalues general practice.

“I really landed in general practice because I couldn’t deal with hospital training, culture and its requirements,” he said.

“Medicine is full of minorities, but even so it’s challenging to be ‘different’ or have a disability.

“I did some womens’ health and then I was a paediatrics trainee.

“I never felt like I had found my people in the medical world, and I disliked the constant changing of doctors, patients and environments.

“I took a leap of faith and hoped I didn’t land flat on my face.

“If I am honest, I did fall flat on my face initially. I had no idea what skills and knowledge I needed for general practice and, with little mentoring in the early days, I struggled.

“However, these days I am so blessed to work in a range of settings and provide longitudinal cradle-to-grave type care to whole families.

“I love many aspects of my job, especially antenatal care and my paediatric patients, but some of my most rewarding moments have been taking care of people in the darkest of times such as pregnancy loss, palliation and grief.”

When asked about essential traits for GPs, Gary emphasises the importance of setting boundaries.

“Knowledge, compassion, humility, and honesty are crucial, but the ability to set boundaries is essential for a long-term, happy career,” he advises.

Gary’s dedication to his patients is evident in his recounting of memorable experiences.

“Whenever I sit with a patient and their family, hear their story, and help navigate the darkest moments of their lives, that’s when I know I am in the right place,” he says.

His commitment to his community is unwavering, as he balances clinical duties with advocacy and mentorship.

For Gary, NAIDOC Week is a time of reflection and hope.

“It’s progress, but it also makes me wonder about the journey ahead for First Nations’ mob,” he reflects.

To First Nations people considering a career in medicine, Gary offers heartfelt advice: “Take the long road. Make mistakes. Try things.”

He encourages them to embrace the journey, even if it takes longer than expected.

“The best GPs I know didn’t start out wanting to be GPs but went on an adventure and eventually found this beautiful, crazy thing called general practice,” he says.

“It may have taken me a bit longer to get my training done, and yes, there were a few more tears that I’d care to admit, but the experience and skills I have obtained are invaluable.

“The things I do today in PGY8 year are things that PGY4 or 5 me could never have done, regardless of whether I had a Fellowship to my name. Time and experience are invaluable.”

Gary acknowledges the inspiration he draws from other First Nations doctors, particularly Dr Nathan Coombes and Dr Sarah Goddard.

“Their time and effort have a ripple effect on me and my community that is immeasurable. That’s who I want to be one day,” he says.

Pride Month (June) also holds special significance for Gary.

“Whilst we have a come a long way, LBGTQIA2S+ people all over the world still experience discrimination, health disparity and violence,” he says.

“It’s not just rainbow and glitter, though I am a fan of the sparkle.”

Looking ahead, he hopes to be thriving in his island home, focusing on advocacy and education for First Nations doctors and rural generalism.

Recently awarded Tasmanian Rural Doctor in Training of the Year for 2024, Gary’s journey is a powerful reminder of the importance of diversity, resilience, and the transformative power of healthcare.

As we celebrate NAIDOC Week, it is fitting to honour Dr Gary Wood and his unwavering commitment to his patients and community.

His story is a testament to the strength of First Nations peoples and the vital role of representation in medicine.

GPRA has Cultural Education Grants available for GP registrars who may wish to enrol in AIDA’s Cultural Safety Workshop at RMA24 in Darwin on 22 October.

The grants of up to $500 are available for GP registrars from all pathways to help them access further cultural education development opportunities to support their GP training.

Townsville photo by David Goulding