Removing skin cancers, performing vasectomies, working in general practice and teaching medical students are all in a day’s work for Busselton doctor Russ Hartley.
Dr Hartley is a Medical Coordinator with the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia (RCSWA), teaching medical students undergoing their RCSWA year in the coastal town, two hours south of Perth.
Working as a GP in one of Australia’s fastest growing regional towns, he is excited by the opportunities it presents to explore different medical sub-specialties and to provide a higher level of service to his regional patients.
Dr Hartley said he liked being a GP and what the work day entailed, but the procedural side was the most fulfilling for him.
GP-life is busy as the population is growing so quickly here in Busselton. There’s the opportunity to do all those sub-specialties - obstetrics, anaesthetics, procedural skin medicine, teaching - all of those things are available to GPs here which gives you such a variety in your working day and week.Dr Russ Hartley
Dr Hartley’s procedural specialties include skin cancers, vasectomies and minor surgical procedures.
“The procedural things we do, in another place you may refer them to someone else to do. Here, the patient doesn’t have to leave Busselton.
“With my vasectomies for example, that patient doesn’t have to see a surgeon or travel to Perth or go onto a hospital waitlist. I can do it in the rooms within a couple of weeks of seeing them. That’s the enjoyment you get out of the procedural work - that next level of service,” he explained.
The expectation of how you manage conditions in the country is different than in the city, Dr Hartley said, with more responsibility placed on rural GPs to “manage things themselves” rather than refer out.
“We have old-school country patients who don’t want to travel to Perth to see a specialist. A lot of them don’t want to travel to Bunbury (one hour from Busselton). That’s what the RCS students see, they see us treating patients differently than how we would in Perth,” he said.
The 10 students enrolled for the 2022 year at RCSWA Busselton can also expect more one-on-one and small group learning, as well as more extensive clinical exposure and experience than if they were to study in Perth.
“The focus we have on them individually is a lot greater than what they would get with their learning in Perth. It’s a more intensive learning system,” Dr Hartley said.
“It's a very different experience to Perth. A typical day for a student may involve sitting with a GP in the morning, going with a GP to do home visits or nursing home visits, and helping with procedures such as removing skin cancers. There may be a tutorial in the afternoon with one of the mentors in the classroom or in the Emergency Department, or it might be going for a walk down the beach, all sorts of different settings. There’s a real mix of what they do.”
The students are also allocated free time to undertake research should they wish, and weeknights and weekends are their own to enjoy the region’s many sporting and social attractions.
“It's a big part of what we expect them to do in the year. They’re certainly not just here to study and spend the year just doing work. It’s a year for them to live in the country and see what it’s like to live in a town like Busselton.
“We want to show people how much fun they can have living somewhere like this… that you can have a work/life balance,” he said.
While Dr Hartley was born and raised in Perth, he and his GP wife and three children do not foresee a return there.
“We are very much of the same mindset in terms of where we want to live and the sort of work we want to do.
“The longer I live here the more I am in contact with my patients in the community through sport or clubs we have joined or socialising. You see your patients out and about, in the street, and they want to stop and have a chat.”
Dr Hartley is RCSWA Alumni himself and counts his year in Kalgoorlie in 2006 as pivotal to changing his career outlook. His older brother was among the school’s pilot group in 2002.
“The whole experience was amazing. What stood out, apart from the quality of the teaching we had, was the passion that our teachers had – the teaching effort they put into us we had never seen before,” he said.
It did not take long before his studies and sporting life collided in Kalgoorlie, literally.
“One of the other students and I were playing hockey and he, accidentally of course, cut open the head of one of the other players. When the game finished and we drove down to the emergency department they made my mate stitch him up.
“That has always stuck in my mind because I thought it was such a unique country town experience. We did the injury, we fixed it, and the guy who had the injury was happy that the guy who had caused it had to stitch him up,” he recalled.
To high school students and medical students considering training in the country, Dr Hartley’s advice is simple – “you have to do it”.
“It opens up a whole new world and view on what it is to be a health practitioner. To become a doctor, nurse, physio or a chiropractor, the way you practice in the country is so different to the city.
“Work is part of it but the lifestyle you get in these country towns is just brilliant. There’s really nothing that we lack for in Busselton that we would have to go back to Perth or a bigger centre to access.
I had no interest in working in the country initially until I went and did RCSWA in Kalgoorlie. Had I not tried that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Go and try it. You haven’t lost anything but there’s a chance you’ll love it and you’ll want to consider a life and career living outside of the city.Dr Russ Hartley
Image: Dr Russ Hartley enjoying the local beaches around Busselton