A big adventure awaits Northern Territory General Practice Education registrar, Rhys Harding, who will have the general practice training placement experience of his lifetime in Antarctica at the end of 2019. Read on to hear how training in the Northern Territory is helping Rhys prepare for the most extreme of remote healthcare environments.
Starting his training with NTGPE in 2018 through the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), Rhys completed his advanced skills training in anaesthetics at Royal Darwin Hospital. Since then, he’s worked in Nhulunbuy completing concurrent placements at Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation, where he does general practice work, as well as at the Gove District Hospital, where his work involves emergency medicine and anaesthesia. Rhys said he enjoyed the variety of clinical presentations he saw between the two workplaces.
“There's a lot of chronic disease here – respiratory disease, renal disease and cardiovascular disease,” Rhys said.
“My day might start by treating coughs, colds and wounds at the Aboriginal health service, and then see me doing resuscitations that evening in the emergency department or being on called in for a caesarean in the middle of the night. It's quite variable, but that's what makes it so great.
“It's a very geographically, culturally and medically impressive place - the Northern Territory. There's no question that you just cannot get this anywhere else in Australia.”
Growing up in Jervis Bay and starting his medical education in Wollongong, Rhys said he hadn't really ever thought of working up in the NT.
“When I first took the bait in 2015 to come to Nhulunbuy, that was it for me. I met some of the clinicians here – they’re some of the most phenomenal rural generalists I've ever met – and I wanted to be a part of that. So that's what drew me into staying,” Rhys said.
Since then, Rhys has travelled and worked in just about every corner of the Territory, including GP/anaesthetics training in Darwin and Palmerston, emergency medicine in Alice Springs, and a couple of stints in Katherine.
It’s through his experience working in remote general practice in the NT that Rhys said he has developed his ability to make independent decisions and honed his acute care and procedural skills.
“Working in remote parts of the NT, you quickly grow your professional resilience and ability to work independently. But I think that's what leads you into becoming a great generalist,” Rhys said.
Rhys said he will soon be heading to cooler ground to complete his placement in Antarctica, where he will be the sole doctor on one of the research stations for 12 months.
“My job will commence as the ships’ doctor aboard the Aurora Australis Icebreaker where it will take two weeks just to reach the station,” Rhys said.
During the winter, temperatures at Australia’s coastal Antarctic station can plummet to -30 degrees Celsius; a big change from the tropical climate of Nhulunbuy.
“Down there I will be the GP, dentist, anaesthetist, surgeon, nurse, radiographer, laboratory scientist and the whole allied health department,” Rhys said. “But the Antarctic Division provide intensive training and upskilling for this role.
“I think working out in Nhulunbuy has definitely helped me prepare for what I am about to embark upon. As opposite as the climates are, the medical and personal challenges of living and working in a remote, isolated environment are paralleled.”
Rhys will head for Antarctica at the end of 2019 for his year-long placement, after which he plans to return to the NT to complete his training with NTGPE.