For Dr Ellie Woodward, being a GP in the Northern Territory denotes a sense of adventure, a fundamental passion for medicine, and a motivation to contribute towards positive change.
GP registrar Ellie is currently based in Alice Springs, training half-time at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC), and half-time at the Centre for Disease Control.
Originally from New Zealand before moving to Sydney for medical school, Ellie was initially drawn to the NT after completing an elective placement as a medical student with the Royal Darwin Hospital Physician Outreach service – and she hasn’t looked back.
“When I first came to the NT, I was immediately taken by the incredible country and culture of the Top End,” she said.
“I eventually left New South Wales and landed in Nhulunbuy, East Arnhem Land, for my first term at Gove District Hospital with no idea of what to expect.
“My supervisor picked me up from the airport and took me to the hospital accommodation, before inviting me out for a meal with the rest of the supervisors.
“It set the tone for the term – a supportive and welcoming team environment, which makes the challenges of working in the NT both manageable and rewarding.
“My first placement really gave me a sense of the wide variety of settings in which medicine can be practised in the NT – from tertiary level care to remote homelands.”
It is this passion for remote health that has sculpted Ellie’s journey so far.
Despite working in mainstream general practice and undertaking hospital placements in Darwin, as well as completing a term as the Registrar Liaison Officer for NTGPE, it is her current training post at CAAC that she is treasuring the most.
“Working with CAAC – the largest Aboriginal Controlled Health organisation in the Northern Territory – has been an incredible learning experience for me both personally and professionally,” she said.
“It’s a privilege to live and work on Arrernte Country, and I’ve been fortunate to engage in two-way learning with patients and staff at Congress to learn more about central desert cultures.
“This has been invaluable to my understanding of local Aboriginal language and culture in the Mparntwe region, and for my development as a culturally-safe clinician.
“Additionally, at Congress I work in a multi-disciplinary team that approaches health holistically with priorities set by the community to achieve equitable and community-driven outcomes.
“In this way, this training post has also developed my understanding of alternative models of health care and the concept of Community Control.”
So, what drew Ellie to a career in general practice?
“I chose general practice because it allows me to work across multiple specialty areas, every day,” she said.
“I’m passionate about women’s health, mental health, and Aboriginal health. With general practice, I’m able to practice in each of these areas, among others.”
Ellie is undertaking dual training in General Practice and Public Health Medicine, and has also spent a year working as a Public Health registrar with the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) on the COVID-19 pandemic response.
“I’m interested in the upstream drivers of population health,” she said.
“Preventative health is inextricably linked to primary health, and working at the interface in general practice has enabled me to develop skills in both public health and clinical medicine,” she said.
“With shortages in services in remote areas, GPs need to be prepared to take on extra responsibility and commit to the entire patient journey, carefully utilising limited resources.
“A doctor training in a rural or remote area needs to be committed, resourceful and kind, as referral pathways in major centres mean patient care is often shared among numerous providers.
“Training in the NT has given me a far greater appreciation of the challenges faced by remote doctors, and the critical role of rural generalists in these settings
“It has also widened my perspective of what general practice can look like.
“I’ve worked with GPs who specialise in emergency and retrieval medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, public health, and surgery. It’s inspiring to see the rich and varied careers my supervisors in the NT have had.”
Ellie says that NTGPE has provided her with immense support from both a practical and pastoral point of view.
“They have given personalised advice when selecting training terms, and guidance for navigating training requirements,” she said.
“The pastoral care team have also offered a supportive ear when I’ve encountered challenges during my training, as well as encouraging words during times of stress and exams.
“The GP training program can feel overwhelming at times with the number of assessments, clinical requirements, and of course exams.
“The NTGPE registrar team have been a huge support in navigating the training journey.”
Ellie believes seeing she’s made a positive difference in someone’s day is the most rewarding part of being a doctor.
“People often dread going to the doctor, and it’s obvious when they walk into the room if they don’t want to be there,” she said.
“Building rapport and providing a positive healthcare experience is a hugely rewarding part of the consult for me – and hopefully helps to reduce the patient’s anxiety next time they seek care.”
Ellie’s career goal is to be a qualified GP and public health physician working in both clinical medicine and preventative health, tackling the upstream and downstream drivers of health in the NT.
This will no doubt help Ellie – a keen hiker – to continue her sense of adventure and to achieve her goal of contributing towards positive change in the health of all Territorians.