Meet Dr Seb Kirby - Former Rural Clinical School student

Rural Clinical School Alumni Series 

Dr Seb Kirby is a University of Melbourne alumnus of the Rural Clinical School, and Deputy Director of Medical Services at Northeast Health Wangaratta with a life-long passion for rural health. We spoke to Seb to see what he is up to now, where his career has taken him since graduating and what advice he has for rural medical students.

Dr Seb Kirby visited the Department of Rural Health on 28 November 2022 after graduating in 2018.

Growing up in rural South-West of Western Australia and with his mum working as a registered nurse in small rural hospitals – rural health is something Seb has been exposed to most of his life.

“I’ve always loved living rurally and finding a career that allows me to do that has always been something I’ve been interested in.”

In 2014, Seb was accepted into the University of Melbourne with the Rural Clinical School selected as his top preference. He underwent the Doctor of Medicine degree at the Rural Clinical School based in Shepparton from the years 2015 to 2018, taking a one-year break in 2017 to complete his Masters of Public Health. During his time at the Rural Clinical School, Seb was actively involved in the Outlook Rural Health Club where he took the role of Outlook Treasurer in 2016 and President in 2017 & 2018, receiving the RCS Rural Communities Award.  After he graduated, Seb was accepted into the Murray to the Mountains (M2M) program to undergo his internship where he underwent a general practice placement in Mansfield during that same year.

“I loved M2M, it gave me really good insight into the connection between traditional hospital medicine and community-based care because you work across both – and understanding that integration is very useful.”

Back in time - Rural Clinical  School students outside the Department of Rural Health Shepparton campus in 2018

Seb has been working at Northeast Health Wangaratta since, initially taking a general resident year, followed by a critical care senior resident year, and most recently working as the inaugural Medical Administration Registrar before transitioning to the Deputy Director of Medical Services role, a senior management role reporting to the Executive Director of Medical Services at Northeast Health.

He has found that working in a smaller community and smaller hospital setting has presented significant career opportunities.

“It’s lot easier to set a reputation for yourself in a rural health setting, which can also be a challenge, but personally it’s given me a lot of opportunities and opened doors.”

“I’ve been working at Northeast Health for four years now, allowing me to build a good reputation and relationships which has led me to where I am now - something that I may not have achieved had I been working in a bigger metro hospital.”

When working in a rural town, Seb highlights the importance of getting to know your community.

“Connect with the local community as it’s not only important in building supports whilst training as a junior doctor, but also to understand the roles that health services play in small communities. They are so vital.”

“Rural or regional health services are so much more connected to their communities than say larger metro hospitals. You can easily identify the community that a rural health service serves, and the health service is typically strongly connected to that community.”

“The challenge in this is that rural communities are smaller, and you get to know everyone, and they know you’re a doctor – so there’s a lot more informal consults outside of the consult room, and the boundaries can blur. You learn to get good at setting boundaries.”

Working as a rural doctor often means working with a smaller workforce and carrying a larger load, an environment that Seb says has allowed him to learn and grow at a quicker pace.

“You have to step-up up a lot sooner than someone working in a metro centre. Often you will do jobs or tasks at a much more junior level, with the support of course, but it means you increase your skills a lot quicker.”

Dr Seb Kirby and his rural health colleagues.

When it comes to other rural health students and those interested in a career in rural medicine, Seb encourages taking up opportunities that arise.

“I would say just seek out opportunities as there are plenty in rural health. There’s a perception that you won’t get the same clinical exposure that you would working in the city – which is wrong! You get to see lots of fascinating medicine and work with and meet incredible people. You have to be open to the opportunities and be willing to say yes and put your hand up.”

Due to the nature of the work and the resources in rural health settings, the same structures and supports on offer in the city don’t always translate to the rural setting. This requires rural doctors have an extended scope of practice compared to their metropolitan peers, and are required to manage the diverse range of presentations within the consult room, emergency department or hospital ward.

“I highly recommend being a generalist no matter what career path you choose, whether that’s as a GP or other specialist because in rural communities we desperately need GP’s, but we also need specialists…but above all, we need generalists.”

“People that can focus on an organ system in a general way and deal with all the kinds of disease processes that may affect that system are really beneficial.”

Dr Kirby and his partner will shortly be leaving the area to return home to Perth after eight years of living, studying, and working in regional Victoria. His clinical interest lies in emergency medicine where he’ll be starting his fellowship training program at the Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth – a move he finds bittersweet as he switches to metropolitan to gain his specialist qualifications, but which also means he leaves behind a cherished rural community.

“I’ll miss Wangaratta for sure, but it’s the right time in my career to pursue a new direction. It will be a big adjustment going to metro, but I know I’ll return to rural one day.”

As he departs from rural health for a period, Seb reflects on his time as a rural medical student and doctor and what he loves most about it.

“Rural Health is exciting because it’s so fulfilling. You get to use the knowledge and skills you’ve been working so hard on to effect tangible change for communities that are so in need of, and appreciative of your care. And of course the variety you see and deal with is exciting and really rewarding.”

Reconnecting with Rural Clinical School course academics and facilitators the Department of Rural Health in Shepparton.

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