As Mackay and the Whitsundays recover from Cyclone Debbie, Dr Skye Nissen has reflected on the vital role she played in the wake of the destruction.
Dr Nissen is a Generalist Medical Training (GMT) GP registrar based at the Proserpine Hospital. GMT is a program within James Cook University’s College of Medicine and Denistry.
“I’m from Cairns so I’m used to cyclones, but cyclone Debbie was just something else. It went for so long, it was so destructive,” she said.
On the day following the cyclone, Dr Nissen was unable to access the Proserpine Hospital due to floodwaters, so she worked in a makeshift emergency department set up at a local GP Practice.
“We had compound fractures, appendicitis – all these people couldn’t get to the hospital.”
When the floodwaters receded, Dr Nissen drove to the hospital to relieve the doctors who had been working non-stop for several days.
“The scene I walked into at the hospital after the cyclone was intense. The hospital was half in the dark, there were people everywhere.
“That was the first large-scale event that I’ve experienced. It was one of the highest volume of patients I’ve had to manage, and my training meant that I was ready to deal with it all.”
GMT Medical Educator Dr Ciara Ross said the GMT program, along with practical experience, gives registrars the skills they need to respond in a disaster.
“A lot of the training the GMT registrars are given is centered around rural, remote medicine and a large component of that is dealing with emergency situations.
“One of the good things about their training posts is that they are assigned to very experienced supervisors who have been working in these rural, remote areas for a very long time.
“This means they are very familiar with dealing with emergency situations, maybe in a resource poor environment, away from a tertiary centre.”
Dr Nissen’s career goal is to become a hospital-based generalist in a rural hospital. She said it was her rural placements during medical school that inspired her to ‘go rural’.
“The best thing I ever did was decide to go rural. I think I am going to have a much better lifestyle. I am well supported. I was able to gain a lot more experience in clinical skills earlier on. Rural based senior doctors are so supportive and such good mentors.”
Dr Nissen says she also enjoys being part of a community.
“It’s great having that engagement with the community, and seeing your patients out and about.”
GMT is a program within JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry and has been contracted by the Australian Government Department of Health to deliver the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) program in the North Western Queensland region.
The AGPT program is a vocational training program for medical graduates who are pursuing a career in the specialty of General Practice.