An Affinity for Aboriginal Health in Mount Magnet

22 July 2020

Dr Rohan Carter has spent much of his working life in regional settings, whether that be down in Albany or all the way up in the Kimberley. His love of the wide open country has led to him becoming highly regarded in Aboriginal Health and offers a unique insight to the challenges and obstacles faced by rural communities.

“When the pandemic was announced a few of my first thoughts revolved around a few very important considerations,” Dr Carter says, “For example, we do not have any way to actually ventilate a patient out here. This is a concern if a patient requires it.

“Unlike the city where a patient could call the ambulance and be taken to a large hospital where they could be intubated quickly, here they would have to rely on manual ventilation and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which could be four hours away!”

It’s unlikely that anyone across the world didn’t feel the oppressive shadow of COVID-19 falling over their everyday life. The global health crisis hit certain countries more than others, and while Australia has so far suppressed the outbreaks we are seeing in the Americas, the United Kingdom, and India, the fear of what could happen if the virus made its way into regional communities persists.

“Another thought was around testing. Our pathology leaves in the afternoon and flies to Perth. This then would delay any results by a minimum of 12 hours.”

Fortunately, the regional parts of Western Australia seem to have come away from the pandemic relatively unscathed. Dr Carter puts much of this success down to the willingness of the local community to follow government advice.

“It was amazing to see the vast majority of my patients heeding the government’s advice! I noted that they used social distancing, stayed home where they could and phoned before coming to the clinic,” he says.

“My patients are often mobile in that they can leave town for funerals etc., but COVID-19 delayed a lot of this. Aboriginal funerals are often large, COVID-19 forced plans to change and it delayed some funerals for months until people could come and the ‘room restrictions’ were relaxed.

“It affected us regarding tourists. We usually have a large number of tourists coming into town for gold prospecting. This year these numbers were down. This then affects how much money is going through the town’s businesses.”

Though Dr Carter has become a well-known face around Mount Magnet, he began his medical career as a nurse in Albany, where he established “a great affinity” with Aboriginal patients and people.

“I thought I could make a difference to Aboriginal people’s lives as a doctor, so decided to get into medicine. I went into Notre Dame with a desire to work as a GP in Aboriginal health.

Notre Dame helped show me I was on the right track. Here we are 11 years later, doing what I originally set out to do.

In 2016, after stints in the Kimberley, Dr Carter arrived in Mount Magnet, the hub of the Murchison and historic gold mining settlement. The practice he currently works in extends the Geraldton Aboriginal Medical Service, a medical clinic he previously worked for.

“After being in the Kimberley, we felt it was time to return closer to my partner’s family. She is an Aboriginal girl from the Midwest, so Mount Magnet was close enough to her mum, yet far enough away from the city to allow me to practice remote Aboriginal health.”

The latest addition to the Mount Magnet medical offering is a GeneXpert Point of Care COVID-19 testing machine. This machine will be invaluable should there be a second wave of the virus. Instead of taking half a day for results to return, the machine will make testing for COVID-19 and receiving results take less than an hour, presenting benefits to both doctor and patient.

“The machine looks specifically for certain bits of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA,” Dr Carter says. “It tests to see if that is in the sample. If it is, then it’s positive. It is essentially the same tests that the labs use, but on a smaller scale. The huge advantage of testing here is that I can advise patients of results in 45 minutes. This then means people are not having to isolate for longer than they need to.”

The benefits for Dr Carter are less about what it means for him, and more about what it means for patients. As a nurse he already had a patient-centred approach to healthcare, but his time at Notre Dame solidified the concept and made it a part of his daily practice.

“In Aboriginal health its important to listen to your patient. Notre Dame taught these skills and enhanced the ones I already had. I feel so honoured every day to have attended Notre Dame. My fondest memory is the Kimberley trip. It was during that trip that my intended choice of career was confirmed. The entire trip was just so powerful to me.

“My other favourite memory is Donna Mak. I didn’t know it at the time, but just about everything she taught me is what I use today. A lot of my job is public health, so bits and pieces of what Donna said come flooding back. I still email her to ask questions from time to time!

For medicine students, no matter where in their learning journey, Dr Carter offers the following advice.

“Find a passion and stick to living and working every day with that passionate fire still burning. Medicine is a brilliant career, but if you aren’t doing something you are passionate about, it’s just a job. Your passion should drive you to constantly love what you do and give you the reason to keep going back to work every day.

Medicine with passion is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle choice. I would do what I do for nothing.


Media Contact: Breyon Gibbs : +61 8 9433 0569 | breyon.gibbs@nd.edu.au