IT’S a conundrum that is fast becoming an issue for our town – how do regional areas like Mildura attract and retain quality doctors and medical specialists?

According to one Mildura Base Hospital (MBH) intern, Dr Madeleine Leung, 23, PICTURED, targeting young GPs may be the answer.

“The shortage of doctors in this town is certainly an issue,” she said. “However forcing doctors to come to Mildura is not the way to go, as they wind up resenting the place.

“Usually those doctors targeted are older, have families and are settled, and I personally think getting medical students out here is the best idea, because by the time it’s their turn to choose where they want to go, they are more likely to choose to stay or return to Mildura.

“Everyone wants doctors that want to be here. For me personally I’m still young enough that I haven’t put my roots down anywhere, so I can explore the options.”

Originally from Adelaide, Dr Leung speaks from experience, and is the first to admit that she wasn’t “overly excited” to be told two-and-a-half years ago that she was relocating to Mildura as part of her study requirements.

“I arrived in the area through Monash Rural Health, and at the time I was studying medicine at Monash University in Melbourne,” she said. “I grew up in Adelaide and completed my secondary schooling there, and then moved to Melbourne to attend university while also offering support to my grandparents in their restaurant.

“At the time going rural was never on the cards for me, and in my third year of university I undertook my placement in the city. Then in my fourth year we were told that not enough students were opting to go rural, so the university decided to randomly draw some names out of a hat, and I was one of the names plucked out.

“I basically received an email saying that in two weeks I was going to be placed at Mildura Base Hospital for one year, so the initial move was certainly not by choice.

“However, two-and-a-half years later, I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be… I have fallen in love with Mildura!”

It’s a story told countless times by professionals across numerous industries who have, through one reason or another, been forced or required to relocate to Mildura. Many arrive with little to no knowledge of the area, or come with misguided misconceptions about the town. Dr Leung said she fell into both categories.

“I knew absolutely nothing about Mildura at the time, so I decided to ‘Google’ Mildura, and it came up with a .5 star rating, with one not so flattering review about a local nightclub also included,” she said. “I also didn’t have a driver’s license at the time and my Mum was unwell, so there was a lot working against me that made the move not ideal.

“I came anyway because I didn’t have a choice, and it proved to be a nice surprise! The people are so friendly here.”

Dr Leung studied through Mildura’s Monash Rural Health campus, also undertaking a placement at MBH.

“I was thrown into the work which was great,” she said. “You are definitely exposed to more here, and I was able to undertake my emergency rotation at MBH in my fifth year, and we did so much across the emergency department (ED) and in the Simulations Labs.”

Dr Leung said she had also tried to take advantage of every rotation MBH offers – from working with women and children to spending three terms in mental health, ED, general surgery, aged care, general medicine and even spending time with GPs and district nurses.

“Rural areas, particularly Mildura, offer that multi-disciplinary approach, and it’s noticeable among graduates,” she said. “In the middle of my training here I actually decided to go back metro for one rotation, and you notice the difference.

“It’s a different vibe, it’s less personal, and you’re probably not allowed to do as much because there is always someone more senior around who takes over. They are spoiled for resources in metro areas, and unfortunately you don’t have that luxury here.

“Mildura-trained doctors are so capable because they’ve done everything, they have the skills, they’ve all assisted in theatre etc. Everyone who graduates generally knows how to do stuff in theory, but everyone who graduates from Mildura has hands-on experience.”

Dr Leung will spend the next 12 months completing her internship here, with her long-term goal to become involved in psychiatry.

“My plan is to stay in Mildura for as long as possible, however, in some instances they’re aren’t enough training opportunities, and it might not be possible to pursue my goals in the region,” she said. “I’ll just have to wait and see.”

Dr Leung said the region was also lucky to have Monash Rural Health in its backyard.

“Students come here and work here, which provides that direct link,” she said. “It’s a shame that some people get through their entire medical degree without coming to a proper rural area.

“Rural areas like Mildura certainly suit a certain type of person, and I don’t think you should force yourself, or be forced, out here, but if you’re on the fence just do it.

“I love Mildura, and am happy to be an advocate amongst my peers, as I’ve had great support and mentors during my time here. My advice to people facing the same scenario I did two-and-a-half years ago is that places like Mildura are what you make of them.

“If you come here with an open mind and try everything, it’s great, you make friends, you have opportunities and you enjoy what the region has to offer.”