Originally hailing from Yangon, Dr Aung Kyaw was raised as the son of Chinese merchants in Myanmar before moving to Australia to pursue his dream of becoming a general practitioner. Inspired by his father, Aung has been driven to become a great family doctor – someone his father, now aged in his eighties, can look to for health support.
Aung started his journey towards a Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners with a year of mainstream practice at Palmerston Super Clinic, based just outside of Darwin – the tropical capital city of the Northern Territory. He is currently a GPT3 completing a remote term at the Aboriginal community-controlled Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service in Katherine. This regional centre, located nearly 320 kilometres south of Darwin, is seemingly worlds apart from Frankston in urban Melbourne, where Aung completed his medical training in a large metropolitan hospital.
Aung said he chose to specialise in general practice because he wanted to help his father manage his health, even though he’d have to provide care from almost 5500 kilometres away.
“I believe that through my becoming a GP, I can support my father’s health holistically. Even from Australia, I can arrange a multi-disciplinary approach to his overall wellbeing. I can be the family doctor he can rely on,” Aung said.
When considering his future career path in medicine, Aung said that he liked that general practice offered the opportunity for continuity of care.
“GPs are usually the first health practitioners who patients see when they present with a health issue,” Aung said.
“We’re able to understand their home, work and family life, and other factors that may be impacting on their health, and devise treatment plans that work in with these factors. Through this process, we’re able to build trust with the patient, and hopefully, have a long-lasting patient-doctor relationship.”
Being an Aboriginal community-controlled health service, the majority of Aung’s patients at Wurli-Wurlinjang are Aboriginal. Most of the patients are seen on a walk-in basis, which means Aung seldom knows what his day will bring.
“Unfortunately, Aboriginal people have a bigger disease burden than non-Aboriginal Australians, which can stem from social disadvantage,” Aung said. “This, along with culturally and linguistically diverse populations, adds an extra layer of complexity when consulting with Aboriginal patients.”
It’s been in these situations where Aung has relied on his skilled and experienced multi-disciplinary team at Wurli-Wurlinjang, comprising nurses, Aboriginal Health Practitioners and interpreters. He said he has also been able to exponentially develop his skills in acute care through his remote placement in Katherine.
“If you’re based remotely, the nearest tertiary hospital can be a plane or helicopter flight away. Having the ability to sustain a patient in an emergency situation until they can be evacuated is an invaluable skill to have in these settings.”
Aung said he chose to train in the NT for the unique clinical presentations and the different training opportunities that were available to budding GPs.
“In the Territory, medical practitioners are at the forefront of infectious disease diagnosis and treatment, and there’s a strong rural and remote focus,” Aung said.
“Since being in the NT, I’ve also really developed my practice through gaining experience in Aboriginal health. This hands-on experience is contributing to me becoming a better doctor.”
As part of his work with Wurli-Wurlinjang, Aung also assists at the nearby Venndale Rehabilitation Centre, a practice that includes all aspects of the drug and alcohol rehabilitation process, including relapse prevention, case management, reintegration, after care and outreach.
“It’s incredibly satisfying when you’re able to assist a person to overcome alcohol and drug abuse, so they’re able to return to their community and to the workforce,” Aung said.
If you’re interested in training as a GP in the NT, check out the different regions you can train in in the Territory, or find out more about the Australian General Practice Training program.