Coonabarabran: rural medicine

So after the previous few posts on Coonabarabran, you might be wondering whether I actually got around to doing any medicine during my placement there. Indeed I had plenty of medical practice in Coona and it was an amazing experience! (As with previous posts on Coona, the photos below and more can be found on my Flickr photostream).

Placement sites

I was based at Warrumbungle Medical Centre (59 Cassilis St), with husband/wife general practitioners Drs Aniello Iannuzzi and Eve Tsironis as my principal supervisors. Warrumbungle Medical Centre is the main medical practice in Coona (there are two other medical practices in town), with Drs Iannuzzi & Tsironis, two GP registrars and two registered nurses (RNs). My role at the medical centre was mainly clinical observation and assisting with clinical procedures. I also spent some time at the co-located Orana Pathology Service collection centre (a courier does a twice-daily run to Dubbo with the samples). I learnt a lot about general practice and rural medicine from all of the doctors and nurses, to whom I’m very grateful for the experience. Dr Iannuzzi, a recent candidate for AMA national president, and I also engaged in some interesting discussions about life, politics and medicine…

Warrumbungle Medical Centre
Warrumbungle Medical Centre

The doctors at Warrumbungle Medical Centre are also visiting medical officers (VMOs) at the local hospital, as is the norm in many rural settings. Coonabarabran Health Service is a 20-bed district hospital (with a 3-bed emergency department) operated by the Greater Western Area Health Service, with the main referral hospital being Dubbo Base Hospital (c. 1.5 hours away by ambulance). At Coona hospital, I was put on-call in the emergency department (ED) for triage categories 3–5 for three 24-hour periods during my placement – in practice, this meant that I’d be called-in by the ED RN to assess the patient then report my findings and clinical impression/diagnosis to the doctor on-call (who would decide on the course of action from there). I also attended ward rounds with my supervisors, assisted in clinical procedures and with the visiting endoscopy service (see below). Incidentally, I was provided with accommodation at the hospital nurses’ quarters during my placement.

Coonabarabran Hospital ED sign
Coonabarabran Hospital ED sign

Emergency Department, Coonabarabran Hospital
Emergency Department, Coonabarabran Hospital

Nurses quarters, Coonabarabran Hospital
Nurses’ quarters, Coonabarabran Hospital (N.B. MacBook & monitor are mine)

Medical firsts

It’s almost a truism that rural general practice is where you really get to develop and practise clinical and procedural skills, and indeed this was true for my placement. There were many medical “firsts” for me, including: successful insertion of (many) IV cannulae, venesection using a 16-gauge needle (for a patient with haemochromatosis), venepuncture by needle & syringe (cf. Vacutainer/Vacuette), parenteral (SC/IM/IV) administration of medications, manually pushing IV fluids, local anaesthetic infiltration in a conscious patient, needle thoracotomy and thoracentesis of (>2 litres!) pleural effusions, suturing of a wound (using 6-0 monofilament), surgical debridement (severe tinea + MSSA cellulitis + maggot infestation!), admission of a patient, ophthalmic work-up (incl. slit-lamp exam + fluorescein), assisting in resuscitation and early management of severe trauma (motor vehicle accident), etc.

The flying doctor

When Dr Iannuzzi mentioned that one Dr Peter McInerney was flying into Coona to perform endoscopy at the hospital, I assumed that he must’ve chartered a flight to Coonabarabran Airport (which no longer has regular commercial services). It turned out that Dr McInerney was literally flying in – he piloted the plane himself, flying from his hometown of Scone (c. 175 km away). I learnt quite a bit from Dr McInerney during the day I spent assisting him in the operating theatre, including a quick tutorial on how operate the endoscope. It also turned out that his daughter and I had studied pharmacy together – it really is a small world!

School of Rural Health

One weekend my friend Nilay (on placement in Gilgandra) and I decided to visit Dubbo, which for me involved a drive of just under two hours down A39 Newell Highway. We had some friends based at the School of Rural Health (whom we hadn’t seen since the start of third-year) and also wanted to visit Taronga Western Plains Zoo. After spending several weeks in a small town, the City of Dubbo felt like being back in suburban Sydney – it was a bit of a shock to encounter the first set of traffic lights in weeks. It was great to catch-up with our friends (and interesting to observe the bountiful resources of the School of Rural Health), and the open-layout Taronga Western Plains Zoo was also well worth visiting.

School of Rural Health, The University of Sydney
School of Rural Health, The University of Sydney

Meerkat – Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Meerkat – Taronga Western Plains Zoo

The dinner

One of the traditions for students completing their placement with Drs Iannuzzi & Tsironis is that the students are expected to cook a meal for the doctors and their families at the Iannuzzi residence. I was a little trepidatious about this at first, as I’d never cooked for 13 people before… Fortunately, the other medical students (Kate and Shanela from the University of Notre Dame Australia) and I rose to the challenge, putting in a successful joint effort to cook-up an international buffet. My contributions were miso soup (味噌汁), fried rice (炒飯) and genmaicha (玄米茶) – I had some forewarning from previous students, so brought many of the ingredients (unavailable in Coona) with me from Sydney. Kate and Shanela prepared: green salad, papadums, raita, lamb rogan josh, salmon & teriyaki chicken maki-sushi, Moroccan chicken, kheer, barfi, and mango lassi.

Being mindful of one of the registrar’s preferences, this was also the first time any of us had prepared halal food. I had to email one of my friends in Sydney to clarify which foods were permissible, and we were fortunately able to source some halal chicken meat from Coona Food Suppliers (35 Timor St). Being careful during preparation of the food to avoid any contamination, we were able to make many of our dishes above halal (including both of mine).

Miso soup
Miso soup (味噌汁)

Fried rice
Fried rice (炒飯)