A glimpse into the Royal Flying Doctor Service and its impact on remote Australian communities

Royal Flying Doctor

Dr Michael Nowotny is a Consultant Paediatrician and Medrecruit locum doctor. We caught up with him to discuss his recent experience working in Port Hedland as part of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), and how this essential service plays a critical role in providing high-quality medical care to remote communities across Australia.

Port Hedland, a small community in the Pilbara region of Northern WA, primarily supports the mining industry. Despite its remote location, the town boasts good facilities and a robust health service located in South Hedland. The pediatric service is of high quality, dealing with inpatient and outpatient medical issues as well as neonatal medicine.

"The community is primarily involved in supporting the mining industry and consists of a significant fly-in fly-out population as well as some lovely locals who are very proud of their town. Although isolated the town has good facilities and a very good health service located in South Hedland," explained Dr Nowotny.

One of the key responsibilities of a consultant pediatrician in Port Hedland is transporting sick children and babies to higher acuity care centres.

"Due to the remote location, a large proportion of the health workforce are either locums or on short-term contracts. Part of the role of a consultant Paediatrician in Port Hedland is to be available to transport sick children and babies to higher acuity care centres; most commonly Perth which is 2-3 hours south by air. The trips can be challenging as once in the air, it is only the Paediatrician and an experienced transport nurse available to manage any issues en route. It is a very interesting and rewarding part of the job but not for the faint-hearted!"

Dr Nowotny emphasised the importance of the RFDS, "stating that it allows remote communities to access high-quality care closer to home. The service is essential in providing support to these isolated areas."

He recalled a recent instance where he was transporting an infant on a flight to Perth: "Thankfully, the infant continued to improve over the trip and arrived in Perth in very good condition. We were met by the Newborn Emergency Transport Team on the tarmac at Joondalup and transferred the baby into their capable hands. The flight back to Hedland was much more relaxed and the scenery was amazing. The RFDS crew are extremely competent and experienced in this sort of work."

Dr Nowotny has worked outside major capital cities since his early training:

"I really enjoy the unique challenges of providing remote specialty care. I believe we will always be learning new things no matter how experienced or senior we are."

He encourages other doctors to consider locum work in rural or remote communities in Australia "give it a try. You will always meet interesting people and travel to locations that appreciate your skills."

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04 April 2023Article by Julia Medrecruit Editor