Things I’ve learnt from working in an AMS

I’ve had quite a few more visitors than normal this week to notjustagp.com, thanks to the extremely humbling experience of last week being named GPET Registrar of the Year for 2013. It’s made me think I have to capitalise on this by getting back on the blog-wagon! (It tends to suffer when life gets busy…)

One of my main motivations in starting to blog was to have the opportunity to share my experiences working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health. As yet, though, I’ve been uncharacteristically hesitant about where to start… but sometimes you just have to jump in! Being asked by a few different journalistic types this week to elucidate what exactly I find so rewarding about Aboriginal health has probably helped.

I’ve had a fantastic time in clinical general practice this year working at an AMS. I was excited when I realised in early 2012 that work in an AMS could form part of my GP training and jumped at the chance. (Yep, I went into GP training uncharacteristically minimally informed, which is strange for someone as obsessive as me!) It’s been a brilliant learning environment for a GP in training, and I’ve been lucky enough to work part-time which indulges my numerous other professional interests. But aside from the fantastic clinical experience, and being able to almost selfishly indulge my altruistic tendencies, I’ve loved working in an AMS because of how much I learn from my Aboriginal patients and colleagues. If my patients are learning just half as much back, then I’m a happy little Vegemite/GP Registrar.

A short list of selected epiphanies from this year…

1. As a non-Indigenous Australian, all I can possibly hope to understand about more than two hundred years of the oppression and disempowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is that I will never truly understand (but should never stop trying).

2. If you’re lamenting the loss of community in modern Australian society, you can learn a lot from the commitment that my patients and their families demonstrate to me every single day. Frustrated that your Aboriginal patient didn’t show up for an appointment? I’d put my money on needing to rush off to help a friend out, or all too frequently, to attend a family funeral.

3. One of the most useful things you will ever do as a doctor is to ask your patient ‘What do you think?’ Patient-centredness and partnership aren’t just glib exam answers, they’re THE answer to general practice.

4. The best way to build trust, is simply to listen.

5. True health doesn’t mean the absence of illness. Nor, as the WHO suggests, is it ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’. It’s both of these things – for both yourself, your family and your whole community.

Now, I know that a nice round number like 5 or 10 is best for blog posts in list form, but somehow it never works out like that for me. So one more.

6. A GP’s room without toys is never really a room without toys if you’ve just a box of gloves and a permanent marker to create balloons, chickens, or hilarious big-headed doctor self-portraits.

*The picture for this post is taken from the logo at Durri AMS. The praying mantis is the totem of the Dunghutti people from the area in and around what we now call Kempsey.

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