A month before my RACP clinical exam last year, I was offered to do a rotation to Alice Springs Hospital (ASH) as a paediatric registrar. I haven’t heard much about the place previously. I thought that it was probably a stone’s throw away from Ayers Rock (Uluru), and that it was inhabited mostly by indigenous people. The Red Centre impressed me like an arid region with cacti and camels.
Let me tell you that these are misconceptions.
Alice Springs is a town situated in the southern part of the Northern Territory. It is equidistant to most major cities in Australia (and most beaches!) but realistically, this means more than 2000km of travelling. Close to 30,000 people live here, most of whom are Caucasian Australians. Although the Indigenous people make up a minority of the population, they represent >90% of hospital admissions. The Alice Springs Hospital has a catchment area of over 1 million square kilometres. Some patients would be retrieved from near the WA, SA, QLD, or NSW border. Although health service has improved vastly over the last few decades, it is still considered lacking out in the bush. Health clinics in the remote areas are managed by experienced nurses; doctors fly in and out infrequently.
In one of the emails from ASH, they described their practice as 4th world medicine. Most diseases include tropical diseases found in developing countries – pneumonia, severe dehydration and diarrhoea, glomerulonephritis, scabies, abscesses, among others. I have never seen as much abnormal chest x-rays in my whole training! Kids presenting with acute febrile illness will likely grow Strep or Staph, or some funny organisms in the other body fluids! Apart from their medical problems, there are a lot of social concerns in this population. It is not uncommon for mothers to abscond with their children due to a pressing family matter (e.g. death in the family) or for children to present without their parents (but a distant relative).
Overall, it has been a rewarding experience for me – taught me more about aboriginal culture and how to communicate with them, how to deal with poorly compliant families, and how to practice safe medicine considering the families may live 500kms from the hospital!
Addendum: Alice Springs Hospital still has a shortage of experienced doctors. If an opportunity comes up for any of you to go there to work, grab it!Share on Facebook