A highly dedicated doctor from Babinda in Far North Queensland has received the Rural Doctors Association of Australia's Rural Doctor of the Year Award for 2018, in recognition of her exceptional commitment to her community and her inspiring approach to teaching the next generation of doctors.
Dr Renee Cremen received the award at the gala dinner of Rural Medicine Australia 2018, the joint annual conference of ACRRM and RDAA, in Darwin.
Renee is a rural generalist doctor in her community, and is also medical wuperintendent at Babinda Multipurpose Health Service and Yarrabah Emergency Service.
RDAA president, Dr Adam Coltzau, said: “Renee is an extremely deserving recipient of this award, not only for the wonderful service she is providing to Babinda and its surrounding communities but also for the exceptional mentoring and teaching that she has been providing to medical students and young doctors who come to Babinda on clinical placements.
“It is an immense credit to Renee that it was a fourth year James Cook University medical student, Carolyn Reimann, who nominated her for this award, in recognition of Renee’s approach as her supervisor and the exceptional placement she had with Renee.
“Initially, Carolyn was disappointed that she had not received a more remote placement, however she quickly realised what a great supervisor Renee was going to be and how much she was going to learn and experience.
“Renee’s dedication to her students is nothing short of amazing. For every medical student she is supervising in the Tully, Innisfail and Babinda area, Renee will travel to each town’s hospital to give the students an overview on training in skills like suturing and phlebotomy. She does this because she is so passionate about teaching the next generation of doctors.
“Renee has made a lasting difference in Babinda and its surrounding communities, with many patients highly appreciative that she has remained there as a permanent doctor. Her general practice appointments are often booked out at least three weeks in advance.
“Renee’s strong commitment to the community doesn’t end there, however.
“She was also the main instigator behind Babinda’s inaugural Umbrella Ball, which is now an annual charity event raising funds for the Babinda Hospital. The event gathers the entire community together to purchase and maintain the equipment needed to keep the hospital going.
“On top of all her medical responsibilities and community service, Renee is also a mother to three young children.
“Renee is a wonderful role model for the future rural doctors she mentors, and we congratulate her on this highly deserved award.”
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Dr Cremen said it had been a real honour to receive the award.
“I get a lot of joy out of my work and I get a lot of joy out of teaching the medical students who come here on placement,” she said.
“I'm a Cairns girl, born and bred. We also had a lot of family camping holidays in rural spots, had family and friends in rural Queensland, and lived in Alice Springs for a bit. Growing up rural and wanting to help people probably meant I was destined to become a rural doctor!
“After graduating from medical school and completing my junior doctor years, I initially planned to do advanced skills training in obstetrics. However, at the time, I was pregnant with our first child and I also wanted to experience other areas of medicine, so I went to Babinda to get that experience.
“Eight years on, I’m still in Babinda and now I’m the medical superintendent here!
“Given Babinda didn't have a permanent doctor when I arrived here, it was nice to know that I could bring more continuity of care to the community through my role.
“We have a wide mix of people and demographics here in Babinda, so my Advanced Skill in Population Health has enabled me to look at where we can focus or improve on our services to meet population demand.
“We now have three permanent full-time doctors here, which is fantastic – but we are always keen for more doctors and other health professionals.
“I come from a family of teachers, so I guess it's in the blood - I really enjoy teaching our medical students and watching them learn. I also get to learn so much from these students because medicine is changing all the time.
“The great thing to see is that more medical students are realising there is a lot of enjoyment and variety in working as a rural doctor.
“I still get goosebumps talking about the first Umbrella Ball I helped to organise in Babinda in 2012. I'd been here a couple of years at that stage, and the support of the community in rallying behind the event really cemented for me that I must be doing the right thing within this community.
“It really showed me how much the community was prepared to get behind me and the other health staff in town for what we needed here. The ball is now an annual event and it is great in bringing the community together.
“We also have our amusing moments here – like the time I went from finishing up treating a patient at the hospital to being the one on the bed with severe abdominal pain. I had one of the nurses standing over me saying ‘What do we do, we need to call the doctor!’ and I said 'I am the doctor!' Fortunately everything was fine - I was pregnant at the time and it turned out that I was having a significant ligament spasm.
“In terms of significant mentors I have had, Dr Louis Peachey at Atherton has been fantastic. He instilled in me the value of teamwork in rural medicine, not being afraid to question doctors more senior than you on a course of treatment that you believe needs further thought, and that at the end of the day you are here for the patient.
“He also showed me that it is critical to think about how you talk with patients, and to think about a patient’s social circumstances and how that might impact on the treatment plan you come up with.”