Dr Tony Balston's Position As A Country Doctor
'Doctors won't consider a country practice' by Peter Morley The Courier-Mail 24/05/2007

TONY Balston works six weeks straight and is on call 24 hours a day as the only doctor in the Darling Downs centre of Jandowae.

The rural medico, who has served the town for 25 years with his wife Rosslyn, is also medical superintendent of the 12-bed hospital where he also has right of private practice.

But like hundreds of doctors working in remote areas, Dr Balston is facing burnout and is concerned about future care for his patients when he eventually moves on.

According to the Australian Medical Association, 3000 doctors are packing up and leaving towns because of work conditions.

"You can appreciate that because I work 42 days straight and am on call around the clock," he said. "I suppose I work 52 hours a week seeing patients and the rest of the time is after hours work and I maintain the local hospital.
"There are times when you have a busy day and have a couple of emergencies which take you well into the night and after a few hours sleep you are back on the job. Out here you cannot turn people away."

At the end of each six-week session, he is relieved for 10 days by a Queensland Health junior second-year doctor.

"As second-year doctors they have little experience and have to run the hospital," he said. "They make a fair fist of it but they feel vulnerable because they have not had much experience. And a lot of them have had no practice experience at all because they work in a big hospital where they work in wards under the supervision of specialists."

Dr Balston was concerned that because young doctors disliked doing rural relief work for 10 days there was virtually no chance of them committing for 25 years.

"My major worry is that when I leave who is going to follow on," he said. "So I am in negotiations with Queensland Health to get another doctor appointed to the hospital. We could relieve each other, I could be a mentor and that would give patients continuity of care."

He said the campaign by AMA and Rural Doctors Association to reduce the number of single doctor towns in Queensland was critical.

"There is about 50 of them and if we can make them two-doctor towns it will make the attraction and retention of doctors a lot easier and that is really what we want for our rural communities," Dr Balston said. "We have to create a situation where a doctor likes being there, can handle the pace because another doctor can help out and provide better service to the town. When you have a stream of doctors coming through all you are doing is a patch-up job."
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