Australia’s best doctor comes in from the bush

What I imagine I’d look like if I swung my stethoscope like C.Dundee

Dear big-city-GP-job-agency Sir

After years living in the remote NT, for my Christmas present I would like to unwrap a new GP job in a place with more than one general store. I believe you call them supermarkets, but even two or three ordinary markets would be fine. Somewhere big.

Your job ad optimistically requests a long application letter, yet my CV requires only a single line:

I am the best doctor in Australia. No question!

However, I guess you might actually have a question. Let me pre-empt it, by starting with my medical degree.

I didn’t get the highest mark in my entire year just to be an ordinary doctor, okay?

(More truthfully, that should actually read:

I didn’t get the highest mark in my entire year. Just to be an ordinary doctor was okay.

But who am I to limit your imagination with punctuation?)

As Australia’s number one intern, obviously every specialty courted me. The cardiac surgeons offered guaranteed college membership if I aced 18 months at the Royal Melbourne. The orthopods offered full college Presidency if I aced 18 holes at the other Royal Melbourne.

I remained undecided as I blitzed my way through the hospital system—self-nominated Intern Of The Year two years running!

But then my ED consultant made a seemingly trivial observation. “General practice is the easiest specialty to do badly, and the hardest one to do well.”

I retorted that where I come from, we spit on ‘hardest’ and eat it up for breakfast.

Even as he mumbled something about my family being unhygienic, I had made my decision. ‘Twas the GP life for me.

Although I had already mastered hearts and bones (and sand bunkers), upon becoming a GP Registrar it took quite a few weeks to excel at all the other bodily systems. Patients have so damn many of them, and if you’re not careful they’ll mention two within minutes!

Needless to say, within a month I had already outstripped my rival Registrar colleagues. I diagnosed lupus three times in my second week, back-to-back carcinoid syndromes and a progeria.

Look it up. I didn’t have to.

Soon I was offered all the best GP rotations in Australia. A Nigerian email even guaranteed me a coveted position at Yale and Harvard (which turned out to be the name of a bulk billing clinic in Ipswich).

But not for me the bright lights of the city and its plurality of supermarkets.

Encouraged by my Melbourne GP Supervisor at the time, I took up the challenge of a career a very long way from Melbourne.

“The most suitable job in Australia for the best GP like yourself,” she said, studying the map and pointing rather randomly towards the middle, “is here.”

Mistakenly, her finger landed in the unpopulated Central Australian desert, but just two fingernails away lay the township of Tennant Creek, famous for its light aircraft and GP jobs. Within a week I had landed both.

At the behest of my fellow GPs, over the years I steadily moved my jobs further and further north, until I ran out of map and found work in Darwin. My diagnostic capacity hit that town like a cyclone (too soon?) as I brought a raft of fresh new diagnoses to a place that for too long had rested on its laurels of rheumatic heart disease and melioidosis.

I discovered rare cases of Lyme disease, a progeria (again!) and the NT’s first ever diagnosis of frostbite, in a woman whose arm had come off after she fell into a crocodile-infested river in Kakadu. Definitively frostbite, or at least a similar diagnosis within the bite family.

Within only a few months of working with me, my peers suggested that someone of my calibre should not be bounded by map edges. They gazed wistfully at the ocean and almost guaranteed that if I swam far enough north I would strike land.

On the Tiwi islands somewhere off Australia, this career ladder finally reached the very top rung.

Being the best of the best is not for everyone. Technically, in fact, it’s only for one person at a time and that person is called the GOAT. I recall the medical fraternity calling me exactly that as I swam offshore.

But now this apex doctor has returned to the mainland. Buckle up, Brisbane GPs, if you can handle the competition.

So would somebody please give me a job?

This article was first published in Medical Observer, Dec 2021

About Dr Justin Coleman

Justin is a GP on the remote Tiwi Islands at the top of Australia. He edits a medical journal and two medical textbooks, and is a medical writer and educator. Further details at https://drjustincoleman.com/
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