In some ways, it is almost inevitable that Dr Maria Vidler’s past combined with her future vision of herself, would lead to the present, as a GP caring for vulnerable members in remote and rural communities.
The joint 2020 NTGPE Registrar of the Year, who grew up in South Africa on a dairy farm before moving to Australia aged nine, has been inspired in her career choice by her mother and sister.
“Growing up I always admired my mum, who was a nurse in a small rural community,” said Nhulunbuy-based GP Maria.
“She seemed to do everything and help everyone, which was awesome, and that’s what initially got me interested in health, as something I wanted to do in the future. It was my Mum who encouraged me to do medicine.
“I also have a sister with a disability who is a couple of years younger than me, and she’s another reason that I became interested in health care. She was only diagnosed with a chromosomal mutation when she was in her 20s. She can’t talk, only eats puréed food and needs ongoing care and support.
“My mum and sister have both been major influences for me to pursue a career in health.”
Maria, who recently fellowed as a GP through NTGPE and works at Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation in Nhulunbuy, is a clear example of someone who is living their dream.
“When I went into medicine, I always went into it with the plan to be a GP,” she said.
“I briefly considered psychiatry, or obstetrics and gynaecology, but I was always pretty sure I wanted to do general practice.
“Aside from the influence of my mum and sister, this came partly from living in a small town and knowing how important a GP was for the community. Growing up, we always had great family GPs that I admired and looked up to.
“I knew I wanted to stay in the country, as I’ve always loved it, especially growing up on farms in South Africa and here in Australia.”
Maria was studying clinical science at Charles Sturt University in Orange, New South Wales, when she met her husband and first fell in love with the NT.
“As part of his degree, there was an opportunity for him to come to Elcho Island for three months for a project, and he ended up loving the NT,” she said.
“He was welcomed by the community and adopted by one of the Aboriginal health workers, who took him under her wing and taught him about the local culture, dreaming, and language.
“He was really impressed, and then took me the following year to meet everyone, and spend some time there.
“So, when I was deciding where to go for my GP training in 2018, I thought I could either stay in NSW, or if we were going to move, we thought we could come up here and do something totally different.”
Maria, who did her full two years of GP training in Gove, said she did not know what to expect when she came to the NT, but that NTGPE had provided her with all the support she needed.
“I really appreciate NTGPE for everything they’ve done for me, they’ve been great,” she said.
“Our workshops were all fantastic, and we even had some in Alice Springs and Darwin, so it was nice to see different parts of the Territory.
“It was also great to meet up with the other registrars and find out what they were doing, and meet the different supervisors face-to-face.
“I was always impressed with how quickly NTGPE responded to emails. They were also always checking to see if everything was okay, and if there was anything I needed help with.
“And being in a remote area such as Gove, they provided excellent support in other ways, for example subsidies to travel for courses. So, it’s all been really good.”
Maria says that living in Nhulunbuy as a GP is the fulfilment of a lifelong aim to provide continuity of care for a remote community.
“I love that as a GP you get to know your patients over time. You come with them through their health journeys, and you’re able to support them as much as you can,” she said.
“When you’re dealing with Aboriginal health, there are many times when a patient is quite wary of doctors, and I’ve got a few patients where we’ve picked up an early cancer and they’re really scared about going further, and finding out more about it and possibly having to travel for treatment.
“It can be quite challenging at times, but it’s great when you’re able to have a healthy outcome or change their mind in a positive way.
“Sometimes a patient may have to travel for the first time, and they worry when they get there and have to come back. Then you need to spend some more time with them, and encourage them and support them.
“One patient we had was really sick and didn’t want to go to hospital, but his family was worried about him, so I went out with one of the nurses and ended up spending hours persuading him to go. Those hours we spend are worth it.”
Maria, who is bringing up her two young children in Nhulunbuy with her husband, has an important message for anyone considering becoming a GP in a rural or remote community.
“Any GP can work in a remote area, but a lot of people don’t know what it’s like, so it just takes a bit of experience of the area to make people realise that it’s not that difficult or scary. It can be a lot of fun!,” she said.
“We’ve got lots of great facilities here in Gove. We’ve got a big swimming pool, playgroups, and lots of things that more urban places have, so it’s not like you’re sacrificing a lot of things really.
“And you are needed here, and you can make a difference.
“I definitely encourage anyone interested in GP training to get as much rural and remote experience as they can, even if it’s just to check it out to see what opportunities there are.
“You'll have the opportunity to learn about different medical conditions and to be part of an amazing culture. It’s fantastic. I’m very happy that I did my training in Gove, and that I’m still here.
“Like a lot of people, we came to Gove and thought we’d just come for two years and see how it went. However, like lots of people, you get here and after your two years is over, you think ‘oh, I don’t want to leave, it’s great!”
Maria said she was honoured to receive the NTGPE GP Registrar of the Year Award, for her work with Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation in the Aboriginal community of Yirrkala.
"Yirrkala is the biggest Aboriginal community on the Gove Peninsula, so it’s quite busy, and we’ve been trying to keep on top of everyone’s chronic and complex conditions, while also gaining their trust and helping to explain things, when English isn’t their first language,” she said.
“Sometimes a patient might not have been to Darwin or Adelaide before, and this year with COVID-19 on top of that, people in the community have been more anxious to travel.
“We’ve got a great multidisciplinary team out there, supporting the health workers and nurses.
“It can be tough, busy and hectic, but it’s fun because we have a fantastic team which makes it enjoyable even when it’s tough.”
When asked where she sees herself in five years’ time, Maria says she hopes she is still working as a rural and remote GP.
“That’s why I did medicine in the first place,” she says.
For Maria, the future very much influences the present just as much as the past.