Bringing medical care closer to home

Medicine alumnus Dr Hayden Christie is a medical oncologist with the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service. As the region’s first permanent oncologist, Dr Christie says he feels a valued member of the local community. And, unsurprisingly, he loves the lifestyle.

Dr Hayden Christie graduated from the School of Medicine in 2007, completing his internship and residency with the Gold Coast University Hospital. It was there that he began pursuing an interest in oncology.

“I’d been interested in genetics and oncology since my undergraduate days,” Dr Christie recalls.

“Genetics is heavily embedded within oncology and cancer research. I had a great mentor on the Gold Coast in Oncology Director Dr Jasotha Sanmugarajah, who really furthered my interest in the field.”

Dr Christie says his appointment in 2016 as Wide Bay’s first permanent medical oncologist is indicative of the growing opportunities for medical practitioners in rural areas.

“There’s been a dramatic change in the short time I’ve been here. There’s now a second oncologist and considerable uptake in cancer care. Bringing effective medical care closer to home is something I’ve always been passionate about – it’s vital to the community and very rewarding as a practitioner.”

As Dr Christie explains, distance can be a real barrier to medical treatment.

“Accessing cancer treatments in rural areas is not always straightforward. For many people, travelling for medical treatment can be extremely difficult. If you can take that issue out of the equation, it’s a huge weight off their mind – they can concentrate on their health and quality of life.”

Dr Christie didn’t need to be sold on the benefits of life outside the big smoke. His early years were spent on a farm in New Zealand, before his family relocated to Australia, ultimately settling at the southern end of the Gold Coast.

“I much prefer rural communities to big cities. I find it more satisfying – in work as well as daily life. For a medical practitioner, there’s more of a generalist approach – you have to deal with whatever comes through the door. And you’re a valued member of the local community.”

Wide Bay is also home to one of UQ’s Regional Training Hubs, making it a great environment for medical teaching and learning as well.

“As a student in a place like this, you’re much more hands-on. You’re part of the team, not just tagging along. You don’t get that in a big city hospital. I think that makes you better prepared for your intern year – you’re more confident and experienced.”

Dr Christie says more and more students who experience rural practice are choosing to return after they graduate.

“In recent years, we’re not only seeing more students choosing to learn here, but also choosing to stay. I think they come away valuing the many pluses of rural practice. There are great learning opportunities and great outcomes within local hospitals and the regional health system. It’s no longer the case that you have to be in a bigger centre to be a specialist.”

Two years on, the specialist oncologist is adjusting well to life in Wide Bay.

“It’s not a hard part of the world to live in! My wife is from Bauple, so she’s a local. We have two young kids. It’s great for them. The schools are good. It’s a tightknit community and a great lifestyle. And that makes all the difference in your daily work as a medical practitioner.”

This story is featured in the Summer 2018 edition of UQMedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine visit our blog, MayneStream.