When a remote Northern Territory doctor needs a well-earned break, or an extra pair of GP hands, enter Dr Alan Kerr.
Originally planning to visit once a year from Victoria, Dr Kerr is now solely committed to locum support to outback communities.
“The medicine in the NT is beyond fascinating with a range of presentations barely seen in ‘mainstream’ practice. The learning never stops and that’s a great part of the work,” he says.
Dr Kerr is part of a locum program managed by the Rural Workforce Agency NT. He is deployed to a variety of locations, usually remote, usually involving complex comorbidities, often at short notice.
“I feel lucky that I can do something to help, even more so when I consider the fascinating medicine and the remarkable locations,” he said.
27 October 2022
No matter where you are
Rural & Remote Australia
Image: Dr Kerr at Ramingining Airport, 550km east of Darwin
The Rural Workforce Agency (RWA) in Northern Territory is responsible for ensuring that the NT population has access to a quality and sustainable primary health care workforce. Locum support and fly-in-fly-out GP services are an essential part of the mix to sustain the existing workforce, fill provider gaps during recruitment periods and reach communities unable to sustain permanent GP services.
Stretching from the deserts of Central Australia to the tropical north coast on the Arafura and Timor Seas, RWA NT services an area of approximately 1.3 million square km. The NT is home to over 247,000 people, of which 30% are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
In the 2021/22 year, the RWA team recruited 119 permanent staff to the Territory with 73 of those based in remote locations. Additionally, 1408 days of GP locum cover were provided to help retain health services and the professionals working within them. Locum cover allows doctors to undertake professional development and provides relief for holiday and sick leave.
The team at the RWA source and recruit locums and work directly with health services and communities across the NT to identify placement requirements. They coordinate with the locums and organise travel and accommodation to make the process as smooth as possible for all involved.
Executive Manager Health Workforce, Mr Paul Connolly, knows the importance of showcasing the incredible experiences GP locums can have in the Territory.
“We are lucky to have a highly experienced recruitment team who work hard to build positive relationships across the primary health care sector so they can support a broad range of organisations delivering frontline health services. Our approach includes highlighting the unique healthcare experiences available here, as well as the opportunity to make a difference in the community,” he said.
The commitment of GPs like Dr Kerr, with his wealth of experience providing care to remote and disadvantaged communities, is critical to providing equal access to health services in the Territory.
“Rural Workforce Agency NT, has been my ‘locum agency’ for the last couple of years. They are a preferred agency for many clinics because they are efficient and provide staff at a lesser cost than profit-driven agencies,” said Dr Kerr.
“I’m always placed in locations I request, generally, for the timeframes I request. Travel logistics are excellent — I arrive on time and get home on time (Top End wet season weather permitting, that is!) — and I am always comfortably accommodated along the way,”
“We certainly need more health professionals in remote NT. I understand some would find the work challenging, as I do, but the professional and emotional rewards far outweigh the challenges. The patients are some of the least healthy but most deserving I have come across in my forty years as a doctor,” said Dr Kerr.