Although he grew up in Melbourne, Dr Jerry Wong is enjoying the challenges and opportunities of working in Echuca, where he splits his time between two different general practices and does regular on-call work at Echuca Hospital.
“At the end of year 12, I decided to do medicine. I am not completely sure why I made that decision but I wanted something challenging and something meaningful, like helping people. That decision sent me on a good journey.
“The decision to choose general practice came in the last year of med school. There was no single specialty that I loved: I liked aspects of everything. So, I thought general practice might be a good choice. I also knew that I wanted to work in the country.”
Jerry’s wife is from Cootamundra, NSW where she had a good experience growing up.
“She encouraged me to think about working as a rural doctor. I was also thinking about doing obstetrics at that point and I knew that, as a GP, I could only do some obstetrics in a rural area.
“After finishing med school, I went to Ballarat for a couple of years. I did my internship there. It was a step away from being in Melbourne towards what it would be like working as a rural GP.”
Jerry says he went on a GO RURAL trip, organised by the Rural Workforce Agency, Victoria. “That trip helped to me to see what it would be like to work in a rural area. It made a big difference to me.”
The move to Echuca
“I did the diploma and then the advanced diploma in obstetrics before starting my GP training in Echuca at the beginning of 2017.
“I spend half my time at the Njernda Medical Centre, which provides medical services predominately for Indigenous people, and half my time at Echuca-Moama Family Medical Practice, a mainstream practice.
“Working at these two practices gives me a broad range of experience and prepares me well for the RACGP exams. I also do regular work at Echuca Hospital where I sometimes see really sick patients and do some emergency medicine. The high dependency unit at the hospital increases the range of experience and challenges. Finally, I am also on-call for obstetrics.
“There are a number of GPs in Echuca and there are three supervisors for obstetrics. There are enough people doing obstetrics that you don’t have to be on-call every night. That is something to consider when choosing a practice: do you want to be the only GP obstetrician in town or do you want to be where there are lots of other people who will be on-call to share the load?”
Success depends on great supervisors
Jerry says that if a registrar is offered a nonmetropolitan place for GP training they should keep in mind that there are many great teaching practices in rural areas.
“I would recommend that a registrar who is going to a rural area make inquiries about the different practices. Talk to other registrars and hear about their experiences. It is great to end up at a practice where you want to be there and they want you to be there as well.
“The role of supervisors is critical and I can acknowledge without hesitation that there are great supervisors in Echuca. They are always willing to take a call and to come in to assist if you are feeling out of your depth.
“One of the reasons I chose to work in Echuca is that I knew that I would always be supported.”
Choosing the right town
“I never considered working in a city. I knew I would get a really good experience in a country area. I knew I would be supported, see lots of interesting cases and have a good work-life balance.
“Lifestyle is important when you have a family. In Echuca there are many advantages. For example, you do not have to travel far to your practice. You can be home with the family in ten minutes. This town is really welcoming. It is a pleasant supportive community.”
Jerry notes that Echuca attracts a lot of tourists.
“You especially notice that around Christmas and school holidays. It’s part of what makes this town attractive to live in because it feels alive and there are always interesting events going on.
“When you are choosing a practice, you must research the local culture. You want to know the town is nice to live in. That’s why we chose Echuca. We are planning to be in Echuca for some time. Our eldest son is going to the local pre-school and we are involved in many local
In the years ahead
“I would like to work overseas and work with a mission organisation. That has probably influenced my decision to become a procedural GP as well.
Having procedural skills is important if you want to work overseas where there may be less access to specialists. You have to know how to be creative when you don’t have resources at your finger-tips. You have to know something about public health. So all these generalist skills that I am learning as a rural GP will be vital to that overseas environment as well.”
“Australia has a good model for general practice training. The training leads you toward being an independent, holistic doctor. I would like to use my training and skills in a developing country and help them develop their general practice training.”
Jerry is not expecting to work overseas for some years. Echuca has many attractions and he is not in a hurry to leave.
“One of the attractions of working here is the variety and I feel like you can do as much as you feel comfortable with. You can’t just write referrals and expect people to be seen quickly by a specialist.
So, if you want to take something on – do more training and increase your competence – you can often manage patients yourself instead of referring them to specialists. People in rural communities love that. If they feel you are providing a good service, and giving good care, they generally prefer that to being sent to Bendigo or Melbourne.”
"You do not have to travel far to your practice. You can be home with the family in ten minutes. This town is really welcoming. It is a pleasant supportive community."
Looking after your own health
“There is always a natural inclination for registrars to keep quiet about their own health issues but it is better to open up. The RTOs and supervisors handle these things well and registrars can really get help if they need it.”
Jerry notes that moving to a rural location often means losing contact with colleagues.
“I often wonder what the people I went to med school with are up to these days. When you move away from Melbourne you do lose contact. Addressing that issue – perhaps by keeping contact with old friends via social media, or just by making new connections and friends and throwing yourself into your new community – is part of protecting your well-being and keeping healthy.”
Aboriginal health issues
Jerry says working at Njernda Medical Centre has been helpful in terms of the exposure to Aboriginal health issues. “There I have often come to see that there are many other issues impacting on health. It is often a very complex situation.
“Mental health and social circumstances are more regularly part of considerations when looking after the health of a patient and that really requires a holistic approach. It is also important to build trust and then to work together, along with the other staff at Njernda, to find solutions to health problems that may be intertwined with social and economic issues. In the end, it is rewarding working here.
“It is a privilege to work with a population that is disadvantaged and I hope my small contribution will help empower members of the Aboriginal community.”