Dr Bryce Nicol, a dedicated rural doctor providing crucial medical services to Winton and who has worked hard to rebuild the doctor workforce in the town, has received the ACRRM-RDAA Rural Registrar of the Year Award for 2018.
The Award is offered annually to an ACRRM Registrar who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and advocacy in the field of Rural and Remote Medicine.
It was presented last month at the gala dinner of Rural Medicine Australia 2018, the joint annual conference of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia held this year in Darwin.
Raised in the sugar town of Childers, Dr Nicol studied Medicine at James Cook University in Townsville before undertaking prevocational training at Caboolture Hospital and then Advanced Skills Training in Emergency Medicine at Bundaberg.
He commenced duties as a Senior Medical Officer (SMO) Provisional Fellow at Winton in February 2016 and recently completed his primary rural and remote training there.
ACRRM President, Dr Ewen McPhee, said despite being a GP Registrar, Bryce has effectively been the medical lead in Winton since he arrived there.
“He has often been the only permanent doctor in town carrying the health needs of the whole community, with additional support provided by locums,” Dr McPhee said.
“In February 2016, the medical service in Winton was in a critical condition, having had no permanent medical staff for several years.”
Dr McPhee said Bryce had successfully transformed the service into a modern Level 2 rural medical service, with a primary care led model supported by emergency, inpatient and aged care services at Winton Hospital with a mature clinical governance structure.
“This is no mean feat for any individual doctor, and demonstrates Bryce’s strong commitment to his work and the Winton community,” he said.
“Bryce recently completed his ACRRM Fellowship requirements and has committed to stay in Winton until at least 2020 to further develop his leadership role, including the supervision of additional GP Registrars.
"We warmly congratulate Bryce on receiving this much-deserved Award."
RDAA President, Dr Adam Coltzau, said Bryce had made a major impact on the provision of permanent medical services to Winton and the surrounding region.
“Rural communities are inherently resilient but extended drought has hit Winton harder than many towns,” Dr Coltzau said.
“The availability of Bryce as a highly skilled and compassionate Rural Generalist doctor has been a safety net for Winton during these tough times, and the positive impact he has made is beyond measurement.”
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Dr Coltzau said Bryce had earned significant respect and immense appreciation from the Winton community and continued to stand with them as they battle the ongoing drought.
“In addition to his strong commitment to his community, Bryce also has a great capacity for academic learning and an ability to convey that knowledge to others,” he said.
“He is considered the Queensland Central West’s expert when it comes to evidence-based medicine and he contributes at the highest level to all local upskilling activities. Bryce’s immense dedication to the Winton community, and to Rural Medicine as a whole, makes him an extremely worthy recipient of this year’s Award.”
Dr Nicol said it was a great honour to receive the award.
“I knew an amazing doctor in Childers during my youth - Dr Tim Lloyd-Morgan,” Dr Nicol said.
“My mother worked as a nurse in his surgery, and Tim really took me under his arm. He gave me summer jobs at his practice, so I got an insight into what a career in general practice entailed.
“I also knew a wonderful doctor in Bundaberg, Dr Simon Hosking, who actually delivered me, and I was fortunate enough to go back to his practice as a first year medical student. Both he and Tim were big influences on me.”
Dr Nicol said he had a very hard first year in medicine due to reasons external to his studies, and he thought very seriously about pulling out of the course.
“But Tim had a long talk with me one day and gave me the confidence to continue,” he said.
“I then did a placement with a wonderful doctor at Baralaba, Dr Joel Cigera – he showed me so much medicine in four weeks that I came out of it knowing that life as a rural doctor was what I really wanted to do.”
He said coming to Winton was a real challenge, as he was the only permanent doctor there.
“But I was very lucky to have wonderful supervising doctors and great support from medical colleagues in Longreach,” he said.
“It is a hard time for Winton – I don’t think there are many places that have had a worse time during the drought, and apart from an equally devastating flood earlier this year there has been absolutely no rain.
“Mental health is a huge issue here, as local farmers are desperately trying to make it through and hold on to the family property and the family income.”
Dr Nicol has now been been joined by an excellent SMO Provisional Fellow, Dr Sam Balaji, making Winton a 'two doctor town'.
“Next year we are planning to have a third doctor here, which will mean we can provide our own internal relief for on-call duties,” he said.
“I’m also really enjoying my practice mix, as it takes in the hospital work, general practice work and my medical interests, including skin cancer medicine, some minor operation work and emergency ultrasound.
“We’re also a permanent teaching site for JCU medical students, and this is one of the best parts of my job. If my patients weren’t so good I’d just teach.”
Dr Nicol has a collection of memorable things from medical students and patients in his practice.
“I’ve been given a picture of the Queen from one of my students who went to London, a Sherlock Holmes cap from another student because he said I’m like a detective, and I’ve got a handknitted Yoda from one of my other students because she said she was like my Padawan,” he said.
“While I have a number of interests outside Medicine, Winton lends itself beautifully to my interest in astronomy. The night sky in Winton is among the best in the world.
“Getting involved in the Winton community has been amazing. I feel very welcome here. I’m a country boy and I’m a pretty simple man, and it’s just wonderful to feel part of the community. Winton is such a welcoming town.”
Dr Nicol now wants to achieve equitable service delivery to remoter towns like Boulia, Bedourie and Birdsville.
“These remote communities often struggle with service delivery, and are currently serviced by a visiting clinic from the Royal Flying Doctor Service,” he said.
“It’s a real disappointment of mine that we haven’t been able to establish a more permanent medical model of care for these communities. It’s a battle that we haven’t quite been able to win yet, and it’s one of the reasons I’m staying here.”
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