Jordan Fullarton, 3rd year medicine student, Northern Territory Medical Program
I chose Alice Springs Hospital for my third-year placement, and it will be the champion of my study years.
Most of my life was spent in Darwin, and I’d never once ventured past Mataranka. I’ve always been where it’s green, wet and warm. When we were given the opportunity to pick a rural hospital it made sense to pick as far away from the familiar as I could: The desert.
Making the drive down the centre, watching the tall green gums shrink to small shrubbery, the dripping dark soil cheapen against the richness of scorching red, I couldn’t help but be awestruck by the beauty. The contrast of this country is magnetising, and it pervades all layers of society. In my year here I have found that the best practitioners understand the significance of this social contrast, and work to provide practical and innovative solutions to people that are missed by the rigid nature of the hospital system.
One of the most valuable experiences I’ve had here this year has been with the Barkly Deadly Heart Trek. This was a screening trip for rheumatic heart disease in kids, funded by the Snow Foundation and spearheaded by some real masters of their trades. It was a five-day trip that would cover Ali Curung, Tennant Creek, Mungkarta and Elliot, and would be one of the first of its kind in these communities. I was desperate to be a part of it for the learning I would gain, I wanted to be proficient in paediatric echocardiograms and skin checks. Instead I learnt just how unprepared I was for mobile medicine.
Desert kids are so used to migratory medicine. They are rightly suspicious of the changing faces and sales pitches we provide them with. Especially with the older kids, the teenagers, who understood skin sores meant a whopping big penicillin injection for them. Many times, it took days to win over these kids, and it was a huge triumph when they would then bring back their families the next day.
On a trip that was set up to screen for RHD, we fortunately found fewer than anticipated. What we didn’t anticipate was the overwhelming amount of severe skin conditions. I learnt, from the extraordinary people I worked with, how to quickly adapt to meet the needs of different communities. Working with local community members, we were able to engage many more families from surrounding camps. Being allowed into people’s communities gave us with the insight to rationalise treatment and make it personal and practical for each family.
Over the whole five days we ended up screening 430 kids and a few of their parents and teachers too. We were able to treat skin conditions on the move and follow up on kids who had slipped through the cracks many years ago. It was an incredible experience and one that I am so grateful to have been a part of.