Why Rural GP: Dr Alice Fitzgerald

Posted on 1st Jul 2019

There’s something about a town where every second person you meet says “oh I just moved here for 6 months, and well… that was 20 years ago".

My journey to the East Kimberley, started with a GP registrar job offer, a second-hand Hilux and a partner with a passion for four-wheel-driving and fishing. Having completed my Advanced Diploma of Obstetrics, I was itching to start my career as a rural GP. And what a better place than Kununurra, just a short 3300 km from Perth?

We loaded the car with as many possessions, clothes and camping equipment we could fit and embarked on our journey. Driving across the Great Northern Highway in the height of a big wet season was no easy task. We managed to cross the Bow River, 150km shy of Kununurra, just 30 minutes before the crossing was closed for days due to the river rising over the four metre high bridge.

You think we would not have wanted to tempt fate again, but just two weeks later, we drove the 1000km to Broome for my first regional education meeting and got stranded there for four days when a 600km stretch of the same (and only) highway was closed due to extensive flooding. We learnt our lesson about driving in the wet season once and for all after that.

There are certainly challenges of working in a remote area – the tropical rains are just the start – but that is what keeps life interesting. Whether it be managing couples with infertility trying to access services 3000km away, washing out and stitching up crocodile bites or trying to coordinate a retrieval for a woman in pre-term labour at night in a community without an airstrip. You get very used to educating city doctors from tertiary hospitals that there is indeed a difference between Kalamunda, Katanning, Karratha and Kununurra and you constantly battle the social disadvantage many Aboriginal people suffer and their chronic health problems as a result.

But why do we choose this career, this life, these challenges you may ask? We choose it for the small wins. For the smiles of women holding their newborn babies you just delivered, for the diabetic patients you see at Coles with a shopping trolley full of fresh produce. And for the life you live here. For the one metre barramundi that put up a good fight when you hook them, for the sparkling wine you sip on whilst floating on a pool noodle in Lake Argyle, for the dozens of waterfalls with crystal clear pools at the bottom and for the rocks that glow orange when the sun dips below the expansive horizon.