Taking a wide-angle lens to rural health

When he’s not doing the rounds of Ararat Hospital, where he became the first and only fulltime doctor in January, Dr Dan Wilson (MD 2017) tends to a collection of tropical plants, including a monstera deliciosa, or swiss cheese plant. That this endeavour is fraught in frost-prone regions – he was previously in Ballarat – is not lost on him. “It brings me joy,” he says. “Plenty of them have died. It just takes a lot of diligence and failure and patience.”

Dr Dan Wilson
Dr Dan Wilson

It’s a nice metaphor for the U-turns Wilson took on his way to becoming an MD. Growing up in rural Kempsey in NSW, he was probably destined for general practice because his interests were so broad, taking in science, English, engineering and using his hands. But what drew him most to medicine was the human interactions. “You get people at their most vulnerable. It’s an experience I will always treasure.”

Early in his MD, he flirted briefly with failure as he and his similarly high-achieving peers desperately tried to absorb a mountain of content. “Any postgraduate vocational degree has more information than is humanly possible to remember. I had to develop a mindset that I won’t know everything and that still helps me manage today.

“I realised the point was not to achieve the highest grades and not to remember everything. The point was to accomplish the outcomes of the degree and become a good clinician.”

That “good reality check” led to an interest in clinical reasoning, which he channelled into creating a near-peer medical program, enlisting volunteer junior doctors and interns to explicitly teach clinical reasoning to 400 students.

“Take a symptom like dizziness, a really common complaint,” he explains. “The hardest part as a clinician is to figure out what does the patient mean when they say they’re dizzy? Do they feel light-headed? Is the room spinning, or are they spinning in the room? All of those symptoms can lead you down different diagnostic pathways.

“Most of the students were struggling to know what the next step was. Once they were introduced to clinical reasoning, we could see their thinking come to life.” His work earned him his 2019 Junior Doctor of the year award, and led to his involvement in developing the new MD through the Department of Medical Education.  “Education will always remain a part of my career.”

Wilson always knew that once he got the big city experience under his belt, he would go rural.

“It’s not universally true, but for people in the bush, where most people know each other, talking about sensitive topics like sexuality or gender identity can be a bit more confronting because it’s not a common topic you’d share beyond your own bedroom. And there’s so much stigma around being hepatitis or HIV- positive.”

His ethos of equality of access combined with a human-centred approach means Wilson is also committed to providing the full range of women’s health services. “Sexual health is a human right and I’d like to be able to provide that to all women.”

“I have an interest in learning the story behind that diagnosis. We know from research that patients value a doctor that listens to their concerns You can make such an impact on that person’s life, so that they don’t have to travel to a metro centre where they might be needing access to care every week or fortnight.”

– Elisabeth Lopez

  • Dan Wilson was awarded 2019 Victorian Junior Doctor of the Year 2019, by the Postgraduate Medical Council of Victoria (PMCV) and Confederation of Postgraduate Medical Education Councils (CPMEC).