2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 2

A regional training experience in Bairnsdale

Dr Kelvin Cheung, a graduate from Melbourne Medical School, elected to spend his pre-SET registrar year at Bairnsdale Regional Health Service. Bairnsdale is a small town of 17,000 people in East Gippsland, Victoria.

Dr Cheung chose to prepare for his SET training in this regional hospital because of the breadth of surgical opportunities on offer compared to metropolitan training. “I was exposed to a diverse range of knowledge, and I got to try many different types of surgeries. In the city, surgical training experiences tend to be narrower and more specific,” he says.

Kelvin Cheung

Dr Cheung found that he could develop closer and more fulfilling working relationships with consultants at the small Bairnsdale hospital. He got to know all of the staff well, which meant more hands-on surgical experiences, more shared knowledge, and a strong sense of camaraderie and wellbeing at work. He says the friendships and mentorships he formed are incredibly valuable.

“It’s a bit like an apprenticeship. If you follow the same surgeon for a period of time, they know what you can do, and in what areas they need to teach and support you. In that kind of environment, you learn more,” says Dr Cheung. "In city hospitals, you can’t form those close learning relationships the same way.

“I also really enjoyed the lifestyle in Bairnsdale,” he says. “There’s lots of good food and many local towns to explore, with the Lakes close by. My wife, who’s a pharmacist, came with me for the year. We even worked together at the hospital.”

Dr Cheung thinks the biggest barriers for surgical Trainees heading to regional and rural centres are the loss of social connections and the complexities that come with starting a family. It’s not easy to pack a young family up and move around for different training posts. He points out that, at his stage of advanced training, many of his colleagues are starting families and are restricted in their movements.

That being said, Dr Cheung thinks he could definitely see himself and his partner settling somewhere like Bairnsdale and raising a family there. The pace of life suits them. He can even imagine relocating his parents from Hong Kong one day and settling them into the outdoorsy lifestyle near Gippsland Lakes. 

Dr Cheung has now relocated to the larger regional city of Bendigo (population 121,000), two hours north of Melbourne, for the first year of his General Surgery training. He says the pace and complexity of surgeries are more closely aligned with a metropolitan hospital. Bendigo Base Hospital has an ICU, unlike Bairnsdale Regional Health Service. Although he’s enjoying the faster pace for a while, his unique experiences in Bairnsdale have left an impression on him.

Without commitment from a steady number of Trainees and Fellows to regional and rural surgical units, these small hospitals must rely heavily on locums to fill the gaps, coming maybe for a few days, a few weeks, or if the hospital is lucky, a few months. 

Dr Cheung advises those considering a career in regional or rural surgery to first take advantage of the many short-term locum opportunities available. “There’s always a demand for locums. Try being a short-term locum in a few different regional and rural hospitals first. Experience and explore the lifestyles. See if it’s something you like. You’ll know within a few weeks at a small hospital if the environment suits you.”