MEDEX Yakima Class 12
MEDEX Northwest has collaborated with James Cook University in Queensland in an effort to build the PA profession in Australia. Mat Kummerfeldt, graduate of Yakima class 12, shares his experiences in Australia as a clinical-phase student during his emergency and rural-remote rotations.
My placement in Australia was one of the most rewarding experiences of my education as a physician assistant. I was lucky enough to be sent to Mount Isa, a city in the state of Queensland, to complete my emergency medicine and rural and remote health rotations. Although I was there for only two months, I was able to experience a great deal.
A lo-o-o-ng trip
I made the trip to Mount Isa in several legs that began with a flight to Brisbane, Australia. I spent more than 12 hours in the air (and several laps around the plane contemplating my risk factors for deep vein thrombosis). From Brisbane, it was a 23-hour trip aboard a train called the Sunlander to Townsville — plenty of time to nap, read, and chat with the other passengers about what they thought about healthcare in Australia.
Many of them were interested to learn why I was there, and several said that PAs would be welcome in most places if it meant that clinic appointments would be easier to book. After overnighting in Townsville, I had the opportunity to meet Richard Murray, dean of medicine at James Cook University, who graciously took the time to show me around the campus and introduce me to the medical school staff before delivering me to the train station. There I began the final leg of my trip, a 23-hour train ride aboard the Overlander.
Arriving in Mount Isa
When I arrived in Mount Isa, I was immediately recognized by the staff from Mount Isa Center for Rural and Remote Health. They whisked me away to the Mount Isa Hospital, where I was quickly made to feel very welcome. I was given a comfortable and spacious accommodation not far from the hospital. On my first day at the hospital, I met the three medical students I’d be working with for the next eight weeks. We were all given the hospital tour and introduced to the accident and emergency staff who would be training us. Most of these doctors had no idea what a PA student was or what one would be capable of, so I knew I’d have to work very hard to impress them and make a good impression for students who might come after me.
A lot of explaining to do
We began seeing patients that first day, and I spent most of my time introducing myself, explaining where I was from, what a PA student is, and what brought me to Mount Isa. This often delayed my history-taking and led to some very long patient visits, but it did serve as a good opportunity to spread the word about the PA profession in the local community!
I served the community to the best of my ability while I was there, and I was able to gain the confidence of doctors who worked in the Accident and Emergency Department. They allowed me to perform many procedures and to order tests and diagnostic procedures that I felt were appropriate for my patients. The doctors commented that my knowledge and skills compared favorably with those of many medical students. I took this as a great compliment.
The patients I served were an enjoyable challenge for me — both as a PA student and as an American. There were many cultural differences, and it was an education for me to come to understand the Australian point of view about healthcare. Apparently I made a good impression with patients, though, as several who made repeat visits to the Accident and Emergency Department requested me specifically. Training with medical students from James Cook University was a wonderful opportunity, too. We taught each other many different things about medicine and honed one another’s’ technical skills.
Working with the truly underserved
While I was in Mount Isa, I had the opportunity to work with the local Aboriginal Health Service, Wu Chopperen. This medical facility is dedicated to the care of Indigenous Australians, and it also trains Indigenous Australians to help provide healthcare. It was clear that there is a significant need for providers in this area, and working at the facility gave me a unique look at a population that desperately needs greater access to adequate health care. These people are truly Australia’s medically underserved, and they face serious illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. Because they have little health education or access to medical care, their medical conditions are often poorly controlled, leading to serious co-morbid conditions.
Fifteen minutes of fame
When I was in Australia, I was interviewed by the local newspaper, the Mount Isa Star, and ABC Radio National, each of which helped to spread the word about the PA role in Australia. Afterward, a number of patients said that they had read about me or heard me on the radio and were happy to be treated by a PA! I also participated in the Mount Isa Mining Exposition (a large expo of mining technology) and demonstrated the Sim-man mannequin with the MICRRH staff. I used it as an opportunity to spread the PA message to the people and teach schoolchildren a little about medicine. I will always remember this experience, and it helped shape me as a PA. I am grateful for the opportunity MEDEX gave me and the wonderful experience I had. Many thanks to the staff at the Mount Isa Center for Rural and Remote Health and to the Accident and Emergency Department staff of Mount Isa Hospital!