The Range News is Maleny's premium Weekly Newspaper delivered each Friday
to the People of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland from Glasshouse to
Kenilworth and west to Peachester.

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Practice waited 18 years
for a full time Doctor

by Simon Roper

You would think doctors are a shrewd lot wouldn’t you?  Well, actually I have to say that because I’m marrying one.  But did you know it took local practice manager Clare Tuti 18 years before she could attract a full-time General Practitioner to our beautiful Hinterland?

How can anybody not want to live and work in Maleny?  I mean it’s not the back of Burke for Heaven’s sake! It has a reputation for beautiful scenery, an artistic community, and is in close proximity to the coast with its boutique eateries, golden sands and blue waters.

And Ms Tuti only bagged a UK-trained GP earlier this year because the government finally agreed Maleny to be an “area of a workforce shortage”, meaning she could accept foreign applicants.  Normally towns tagged with workforce shortages are less attractive, remote outback locations where Australian doctors are less keen to practice due to lifestyle ambitions.

“This is the first time in 18 years I have got a doctor to sign a contract for more than six months,” said Ms Tuti.  “It’s baffling!    In the past we advertised in the Sydney Morning Herald, all medical media and even wrote directly to doctors asking them if they wanted to move up here.”

Ms Tuti, who has been managing medical practices for nearly two decades, said she thought one reason why other doctors hadn’t jumped at the chance was because she ran an after hours service.  “A lot of GP’s don’t want to take that on these days,” she said.

To circumnavigate the shortage of practitioners Ms Tuti registered her business as a “Mentor Practice”.   That means she allows GP Registrars in their last year of training to be mentored by her staff, thus boosting the amount of doctors at her disposal.

Yet even when Ms Tuti found a full-time doctor, Canberra made life tough when she got that much-needed call from a UK GP, moving to Australia because of her partner’s plans.  Doctor Anneela Saleem, a GP from a London practice, contacted Ms Tuti just two weeks after the initial area of workforce shortage certification had expired for her practice.

This meant the whole process of applying for the certification had to be re-initiated and it took the best part of four months for both ladies to cut through all the necessary red tape.  Foreigners can only take employment in this country once it has been established that no Australians have the inclination and qualifications to fill the position.

It was a frustrating time for the practice also, with Ms Tuti watching her principal, Dr Scott Phipps, suffering under a severe workload.   Even though Maleny town only has a population of 1500, just four full-time doctors cater for the districts’ population of 10,000.   Moreover, many of these people are pensioners who require more care and attention. The Maleny Medical Centre turns over around 100 appointments daily.  But it’s a satisfactory ending for the medical duo as Dr Saleem is now happily settled in the community and is keen to stay as long as her practice manager will have her.

“I love it here,” said Dr Saleem, “I’ve come from a busy, overcrowded Inner London practice to a place where things are more relaxed and I can give more to my patients.”  And Ms Tuti is also relieved at the outcome, as she has been concerned that the flow of part-time GPs training at her practice every six months can be unsettling for some clients.

“It’s a great thing for the patients to have someone like Anneela who is committed to us,” she said.  “When we have a steady flow of GP Registrars coming and going, it’s harder for the patient as they have to keep re-explaining their recurrent problems to a new face every few months.”

Dr Anneela Saleem ... “I’ve come from a busy, overcrowded Inner
London practice to a place where things are more relaxed.”

Our thanks once again to Cameron & Tanya Outridge
of the Range News Newspaper for this story.