17 June 2019

From tour guide to GP: Aly’s story


Northern Territory General Practice Education general practice registrar, Dr Aly Knell, became captivated by the NT working as a tour guide in the Alice Springs region. As someone who enjoyed the outdoors and was always interested in studying medicine, Aly was keen to combine aspects of the two by training to be a rural and remote general practitioner. We caught up with Aly on her most recent placement at Royal Darwin Hospital to hear more about how she made the change to remote GP through her training with NTGPE.

Originally hailing from Renmark, South Australia, Aly chose to complete her final two years of medical school in the NT, which included placements in rural and remote centres across the Top End. Following a couple of years as a junior doctor at Royal Darwin Hospital, Aly was accepted to train as a GP with the Australian College for Rural and Remote Medicine. Since then, she has completed her emergency medicine certification and a six-month term in Wurrumiyanga on the Tiwi Islands. When we caught up with her, Aly was part way through her advanced skills training anaesthetics, with plans to complete her final year of training in Katherine.

“All my placements have been useful steps along the way to becoming a rural or remote GP,” Aly said. “But the first one, which was truly a highlight, was when I first got out of the hospital system as a medical student and did a community placement in Nhulunbuy,” Aly said.

“I did a few days’ placement with Laynhapuy Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services doing outreach clinics, where I got to experience super interesting remote medicine combined with the outdoor aspects of packing a troop carrier with medical supplies and four-wheel-driving into work,” Aly said. “It was the exact type of job I had envisaged doing when I first thought about starting medicine.

“My placement in the remote clinic on the Tiwi Islands was also much cherished, as it was my first long-term remote experience as a graduated doctor. Being immersed in the community and being welcomed by local staff and patients was a real privilege.”Dr Aly Knell

Aly said that although she’s enjoyed most specialties she’s encountered during her placements so far, rural and remote general practice offered the ability to have a broad range of skills and knowledge.

“Days can range from cases managing chronic disease; to doing a surgical procedure; to resuscitations in very sick patients,” Aly said.

“There is no career quite like rural generalism; you have the chance to have an impact on people’s lives as both their primary health care provider, as well as treating their acute illness in hospital or providing anaesthetic services if they need an operation,” Aly said.

“I think doctors practicing in remote areas need to be organised, proactive, willing to learn, and have good problem-solving skills. They also should be adaptable when things don’t go according to plan, and willing to ask for help when its needed.”

The challenges Aly has faced along her path to becoming a general practitioner have evolved throughout her career, from fitting in study and part-time work as a medical student, to juggling shift work as a junior doctor.

“At times, it’s been challenging to study for GP exams while working full time and having a young family, while at the same time starting to practice as an independent doctor,” Aly said. “For me, overcoming these challenges has involved having support from family, being organised, and taking some time out to do the things I enjoy.”

From working in an urban-based clinic, to being based in a remote community, to living in a small town and combining hospital and community work, Aly said being a GP in the Northern Territory can be whatever you want it to be.

“The opportunity for varied and interesting medicine here in the NT is second to none, with presentations including tropical medicine and conditions not ever seen down South,” Aly said.

“As a rural/remote GP, your day can jump from a consult for chronic disease management, to seeing a septic child who requires urgent management, to a women’s health check, to an abscess drainage, and then an unconscious trauma patient – all in one morning!

“Being able to master a new skill such as cannulating a newborn baby or doing an epidural – things that looked so difficult the first time you saw them being done – is very rewarding.”

Interested in training as a GP in the NT? Find out more.

Watch the video below to hear more about Aly’s experience of working and training as a GP in the Northern Territory with NTGPE.

Dr Aly Knell