Heroine of NT health

NT GP of the Year - Dr Sarah Chalmers (2)
Flinders University senior lecturer Dr Sarah Chalmers at the awards ceremony in Darwin last week.

Remote living is no barrier for Northern Territory GP of the Year 2016 Dr Sarah Chalmers.

In fact, the Flinders University senior lecturer in remote medicine is right at home in the bush and has pride in the close relations she has built in the remote north-eastern NT former mining community of Nhulunbuy for the past 12 years.

Dr Chalmers was commended by the federal NT PHN for providing outstanding primary care services and upholding the “proud tradition” of GP service at the town’s Endeavour Health Service and as an academic heading up the NT Medical Program in East Arnhem.

She teaches about 20 third and fourth-year students a year at the new Nhulumbuy campus, works at Gove District Hospital, and previously worked in the Laynhapuy Homelands. Her duties include a mixture of hospital, mainstream general practice and Indigenous primary health care.

“It’s well documented that remote Australia isn’t very well populated with health staff because it’s not considered a good place to live but I wouldn’t agree with that idea at all,” she says.

“We consider it a great place to live. I like the great outdoors, going camping and, of course, I also enjoy my work,” adding she spent a lot of time in the NT as a child with GP parents Max and Elizabeth Chalmers.

“The shutdown of the refinery two years ago led to the loss of about 1000 jobs and it took more than 12 months for many of these people to leave the town,” she says.

“There were a lot of mental health and other issues during the curtailment process but it’s an amazingly resilient community.”

Flinders NT Associate Dean Professor John Wakerman said the GP of the Year award is fitting recognition of Dr Chalmers’ high clinical standards.

“Her resilience and compassion in the face of adversity in this particular setting has underpinned a very substantial contribution she has made in Nhulunbuy,” Professor Wakerman says.

“She also shows dedication to many students who have had the privilege of learning in Nhulunbuy with Sarah.”

The awards were part of the NT PHN’s 2016 Compass Teaching and Learning Conference held in Darwin from 13-15 May which attracted more than 100 NT health professionals.

NT medicos blog item
Flinders med student Rosemary Stewart meets Flinders alumnus Dr Peter Fitzpatrick on a clinic tour of Wurli Wurlinjang in Katherine. Dr Fitzpatrick has worked in the Northern Territory since 1980 when he undertook a placement at Alice Springs Hospital in his final year of study.

The Compass Teaching and Learning Conference was an opportunity for second-year Flinders medical student Rosemary Stewart to rub shoulders with some of the leaders in the Territory’s remote public health care services.

South Australian Rosemary was among six health discipline university students from around Australia selected for this year’s NT PHN Go Rural program, a national annual campaign designed to attract students to health careers in rural and remote areas of Australia

As well as a clinical tour of Wurli Wulinjang medical centre in Katherine,  the students visited various clinics and health services in Darwin, Batchelor and Barunga to gain an understanding of how different health services meet the diverse needs of the NT.

“Go Rural offered me the opportunity to learn first-hand how rural and remote healthcare is integrated into communities,” Rosemary said.

“I was able to gain an understanding of the way unique challenges of rural and remote health care are tackled by those people in the different arms of healthcare.”

The students undertook clinical practice and experienced cultural awareness and immersion activities, including a visit to the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and various tourist destinations.

The Go Rural program has expanded this year to include applicants from nursing and allied health to reflect the multi-disciplinary health needs of remote living.

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