When I was allocated Grafton by my university I expected my year-long placement to occur in a stereotypical small town where everyone knew each other, and nothing ever happened. In my imagination, the sleepy town had an equally sleepy hospital and GP clinics - a close-knit community that made it difficult for outsiders to fit in.
I was prepared to be lonely and bored in yet another bastion of poor immunisation amongst the beauty of the North Coast. However, despite what the locals will jokingly tell you, I found Grafton to be bustling with activity. There was always some festival or local event, from the pomp and ceremony used to celebrate the jacaranda trees with tourists from around the world, to the humble Grafton show or even the competitive weekly pub trivia. Locals warmly included you into the local community. Strangers greet you in the street and generous unexpected hospitality was often offered, even if you had just met them.
The town itself was beautiful, a mix of tropical plants and brightly flowered trees matching its warm weather and stunning architecture, such as the ancient clocktower watching over the town centre. Even the local prison draws the eye with its gorgeous brickwork.
The sleepy emergency department I had imagined was soon refuted. The department always seemed busy, brimming not only with highly skilled staff eager to teach but also rare and unusual medical conditions you never thought to see outside of a textbook.
Similarly, I initially found my placement with a local GP super clinic overwhelming. Patients were complex and specialist services, especially mental health care, were often in short supply. So too were GPs, with many patients frustrated at having lost their preferred doctor yet again. I could soon commiserate. When seeking my own GP, I realised most had closed their books.
As GPs came and went, over time I learnt the value of continuity of care and the importance of a thorough approach to each patient. Screening, for example, was often forgotten unless made habit. Guiding me was my GP preceptor who, through parallel consulting, allowed me the freedom to safely manage patients while learning from more experienced clinicians. Seeing patients before he did, made me take initiative and responsibility for my patient care and realise treatment is often a compromise. It facilitated working in a team with practice nurses, allied health and other doctors with a free exchange of thoughts, knowledge and ideas.
When asked to comment, my GP preceptor noted that not only did medical students help keep his knowledge refreshed, and sometimes updated, but also allows transfer of tricks-of-the-trade that could not be learnt from textbooks. Medical skills could be applied holistically, while giving students an idea of what was happening in the ‘real’ world outside hospital medicine.
Overall, I have found my Grafton placement a very positive experience that not only met, but well and truly exceeded, my expectations. It has changed my clinical approach for the better and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.