Despite no medical connections in her immediate family, Dr Brittney Wicksteed has become quite the trailblazer in her studies and medical practice.
The Kalgoorlie-born, Wheatbelt raised junior doctor first became aware of the Rural Clinical School of WA during her undergraduate degree in science majoring in biomedical science.
With an assured pathway to medicine through her degree, Dr Wicksteed then successfully applied for the Rural Australia Medical Undergraduate Scholarship Scheme for students with rural backgrounds.
“I’m not from a medical family at all. I have an uncle who is a nurse but beyond that no one had been to uni in my family.
“I was really enjoying living in Perth during my degree and thought maybe I would move to Sydney later down the track. My uncle put me in touch with one of his friends who works in Perth and (several) small towns covering emergency departments mostly.
“I did some time with him in Augusta and then I thought ‘I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Australia’ so I applied for the John Flynn Placement Program which took me to Kununurra for six weeks while I was studying medicine,” she said.
Dr Wicksteed would return to the remote Kimberley region for her third year of medical studies for RCSWA Broome class of 2017.
“The biggest thing about RCSWA was going somewhere where you could see people really enjoying their work and lifestyle all at once.
“I always felt it was a bit different in the city where people didn’t have time to enjoy their lifestyle outside of work. So going on RCSWA really spoke to me more about how I want to live my life and distribute my time,” she said.
The RCSWA also made it easy to get a feel for what she wanted to do, Dr Wicksteed explained, in particular the supportive relationships that students have with their supervisors which can shape their perspective of a speciality.
"With RCSWA we had a lot more opportunities to be free-thinking and independent with our assessment, and have a really good balance of being pushed just outside our comfort zone but still being supported in doing that. Seeing patients in ED, we had the freedom and security to get a lot more involved than we otherwise would."Dr Brittney Wicksteed
“When we would be in the GP practice, often we would have our own room and be encouraged to build relationships with patients and take an active role rather than sitting in the corner and observing.
“I think that’s important in guiding people towards their future path. It’s hard to know if you like something if you’re not welcomed into the team and made to feel you have an active role in trying that speciality,” she said.
The experience was not without its challenges, but Dr Wicksteed credits her RCSWA mentor Dr Bec Ladingham and educators Dr Forstar and Dr Levy, as well as her close circle of friends in the group for creating a healthy culture that helped her succeed.
“It can be a pressure cooker at times and when you are all thrown in to the same unfamiliar scenario, you form close bonds pretty quickly.
“We all went through the same experience. We took risks together in terms of joining new sports we hadn’t tried … and we did lots of cool roadtrips and camping trips with each other.
Images: Dr Brittney Wicksteed swimming with friends and fellow RCSWA students, and exploring the wonders of the Kimberley.
“Out of that group, two of the girls were bridesmaids at my wedding last year and I’m still in touch with a lot of the others as well,” she said.
Following her RCSWA year and graduation, the junior doctor headed to the South Coast to complete a two-year post graduate period at Albany Hospital (WACHS-employed intern and RMO) over 2019 and 2020, but it was not long before the beautiful Kimberley region called to her again in 2021.
“Going back to the Kimberley was quite special. I had a pretty good idea what I was in for and it did not fail to meet expectations at all.
“Some days were long but it meant we were examining more patients and overall getting a stronger foundation for future medical practice.
"It was really nice being able to go to the country and see how people treat patients more as an individual person. To have a little more time and more knowledge of their context, and to help them in ways beyond just giving medicine. There’s more knowledge of the difficulties, the socio-economic and environmental problems. It was much more holistic and reminded me of why I want to be a doctor."Dr Brittney Wicksteed
Her goal of seeing more of Australia is exactly what Dr Wicksteed has accomplished, supporting fly-in fly-out clinics to the remote towns of Kalumburu and Warmun and down to the Bidyadanga and Balgo communities.
“You meet the kids, parents, grandparents and sometimes great grandparents. You get a good understanding of how family connections work… and the context of where people come from,” she said.
“Sometimes you see things that you’re not really going to see elsewhere because it borders on tropical disease. From a medical perspective it’s an amazing diversity of conditions and presentations to hospital and an excellent learning experience.”
Now back in Perth enjoying a belated gap year with her new husband, the self-described ‘big five-year plan person’ has her eyes set on emergency physician training and potentially medical administration beyond.
She also has the 2021 PMCWA Doctor of the Year Award under her belt and believes recognition is important in medicine as doctors do not always realise their true value.
“I’ve been fortunate with recognition I suppose. It’s nice to be able to nominate other educators and supervisors for awards because they get a sense of how special they are to everyone.
Connecting and supporting more junior doctors online is also in Dr Wicksteed’s sights, but for now she is keeping busy as president of the Rural Doctors Association of WA, national association board member, JMO Forum co-chair and as an AMA Doctors in Training committee member.
“It’s really good to have forums like these where you can take big issues and get them the attention they deserve,” she added.
Keep on trailblazing Brit!
Image: Dr Brittney Wicksteed getting ready to fly out to a remote clinic.