Saluting a Rural Health Hero: Dr. Pam Pollard's Legacy of Care and Service

20 September 2023

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Health Workforce Queensland (HWQ) provides locum GP services to permanent rural GPs, allowing them the opportunity for professional upskilling and the chance to take leave from their demanding roles. Among our esteemed locum GPs, Dr Pam Pollard stands out as a dedicated GP who has been working with us since 2014. Dr Pollard has always been very approachable and when needed, has always made herself available, especially when responding to urgent requests from our Health Workforce Solutions team.   

Throughout her tenure Dr Pollard has completed 37 locum placements, covering a total of 621 locum days, which has enabled continuity of care and access to services for vulnerable rural communities.  

Most of Dr Pollard’s placements were in MM6 locations, which are remote areas with high and critical workforce needs. Dr Pollard’s first locum GP placement in 2014 was in St George, and her last placement was in Proserpine. Dr Pollard’s favourite placement location was Cooktown.

Dr Pollard commenced her well-deserved retirement earlier this year, and her absence will undoubtedly be felt deeply within the communities she has supported. Dr Pollard recently reminisced back to the very beginning of her health care career and shares her story with us here, along with some advice for health professionals considering going rural.

“What started more than 45 years ago has now ended with my retirement. It has been a wonderful journey in general practice, starting with a year’s residency at the Nambour Hospital, followed by 25 years in joint practice with another doctor at Cotton Tree on the Sunshine Coast. For the last 20 years my career was spent working as a rural and remote locum.

When I qualified, we had very little in the way of additional investigations – very basic x-rays and pathology which was just being developed. We relied on history taking and clinical examination, both skills that are still very much the core of GP work - develop the listen, look and think technique – it is your fallback position.

After the residency (at Nambour Hospital), I went into private general practice on a part-time basis, while we had our family. Once they went off to school, I was able to do more time in the practice and when they finished high school, I took up full-time general practice. In fact, reversing what was the more traditional way of a career.

The investigation side of medicine was developing rapidly with pathology and x-ray leading the charge, specialists becoming more prevalent and IT starting to make inroads. It was both an exciting and challenging time. The hardest was converting from hand-written charts to using computers. The two biggest problems were early computers with only basic medical programs and my inability to type. With slow mastery of these, I could see the tremendous use for the computer and then the mobile phone – here was a boundless resource right there in your hand. One of those lightbulb moments was when I was seeing a patient who couldn’t speak English very well but was in obvious pain. I had a student with me at the time and they were able to activate a translator on the phone and with no more miming / pointing etc, we communicated. Ten minutes later he headed off to the hospital. Another advantage of rural medicine – the hospital was five minutes up the road and a phone call to the appropriate doctor meant they were expecting him and had the thumbs up on what to expect.

During this time, it became obvious there were people who saw a need to help country doctors get assistance, for breaks/ holidays, and this resulted in the “City Doctor Goes Bush” program. Although we were working more in the rural capacity, the Sunshine Coast was becoming citified. The program really appealed to my GP partner and me, so we started doing locums. (Health Workforce Queensland supported the "City Doctor Goes Bush" program for many years). Caro Finlay (Regional Coordinator, Northern Queensland) has been the constant helper/ placement coordinator and travel agent throughout. I can’t thank her enough for the tremendous job she has done nor for her friendship. Well done Caro and your team!

When our GP practice position became redundant, because developers wanted to build high-rises in the area and saw the coffee shop was more important, we retired and did country locums. For me it was the start of a “grand tour” of Australia. Often my husband was also able to come with me and we got to see the local area during and/or after the locum, by spending a week or two in the area. Although it sounds idyllic, remember that most people wanted to get away from their setting at its worst time – thus I never got to see Western Australia in wildflower season.

I have been able to experience both fixed practice and locum work with both being equally enjoyable. We all wish to escape the difficult patients and only managing them for a few weeks is less stressful, however not seeing the outcomes is difficult. What I did like though, was going back to the same practices and seeing the follow up, or catching up with the same patients.

One of my favourite placements was Cooktown in North Queensland. Everybody is so friendly, and the scenery is fantastic. Another aspect is the staff in these remote places. They are “can do” people who manage difficulties and short comings of the location so well. You will find the nursing staff your “right hand” person who can be relied on so well. Never underestimate them and don’t be afraid to ask for advice or just help. They sure can get you out of some sticky situations.

Now don’t get frightened about being out there on your own. Most places nowadays have other GPs in the practice or in town and some sort of hospital. So, remember there is somebody to ask advice of, or get help from and you can always connect back to a large centre or capital city. Remember, you get to choose where you go and have extremely helpful people (especially Caro) at Health Workforce Queensland to be your travel agent and much more. I always got to where I was going relaxed and ready for work. Thanks Caro.

I hope you enjoy being a frontline doctor as much as I have - so why not have a go?”

Chris Mitchell, CEO HWQ, on behalf of the Board and staff, would like to formally acknowledge the positive impact and the ongoing commitment Dr Pollard has made in those communities and recognise her achievements in keeping our rural communities safe and allowing access to healthcare services. Thank you, Dr Pollard, for taking the time to share your story with us and we wish you a wonderful relaxing retirement.