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PSA 2021 ASC Rural Coach Grants Recipients' Feedback 

Each year, General Surgeons Australia in conjunction with the RACS Rural Coach Program offers grants to applicants interested in a rural surgical career, to aid their attendance at the PSA ASC.

This year, due to the PSA ASC being held virtually, GSA was pleased to extend financial support to 15 applicants; some of which have provided the following feedback on their experience:

Dr Yuchen Luo 

My name is Yuchen (Frank). I graduated from the University of Tasmania in 2016, and I am currently employed by the Austin Health in Melbourne. After relieving a couple of rural hospitals in Sale, Bendigo, and Mildura, I am working in northwest Tasmania for the rest of this year. I feel lucky enough that the whole 3-day program was made available online as I thought I was going to miss a big part of it by doing a busy 1 in 3 on-call rural term and flying in and out of NSW for my own presentation. Interestingly my supervisor, Mr James Roberts-Thomson was also attending the online conference on his iPad, and we were doing a general surgical list on day 1 and a scope list on day 2. We find the programs extremely helpful and full of brilliant ideas especially thanks to the great effort made by the invited speakers. 

Prof Fenton-Lee’s TEP inguinal hernia topic, and Prof Saw’s melanoma update talk were the highlight of my conference experience as I love learning about new techniques and tips and tricks from experienced surgeons, and we look after a lot of difficult skin cancer patients here on coast. It was also refreshing listening to Mr Bird’s CBD exploration talk as I also used to work in his unit and was involved in lots of the cases and the research project, and it was inspiring listening to my previous head of unit sharing his technical experience to the surgical community too. 

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Dr Natalie Quarmby 

I had the privilege of being able to present a poster at the PSA Bega 2021 ASC. 

Initially supposed to be in person, the fabulous organisers of this event rose to the challenge of these trying COVID times and managed to put together a virtual event on short notice that delivered a large array of expertise and knowledge, including a unique “virtual poster room”. 

The event allowed the opportunity to share information and developments in research across the country in an easily accessible manner, where other events may have been cancelled. In doing this it also alleviated a lot of the stress of travel, leave and quarantine restrictions that might have impacted many of us. 

I found the experience of my virtual weekend to be very valuable with lots of discussion regarding rural research happening alongside many of the presentations and, given the opportunity, I would like to participate in many of these potential initiatives myself. 

All in all, I would say that the PSA Bega 2021 ASM was a success and I look forward to more of these events in future. 

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Dr Danielle Taylor 

It was an amazing effort to get the PSA ASM running this year in the midst of lockdowns across multiple states. Despite being virtual, there was still the great sense of community and comradery that I remember from the 2019 PSA ASM. This year Dr Gordon McFarlane provided insights into rural general surgery in Shetland islands, where they have many similar challenges to Australia. I was really impressed with the presentations on oncoplastic breast surgery. The amount of quality research being done in regional and rural centres is fantastic and I hope that from this conference we could see the formation of a rural surgery research collaborative. I will definitely be encouraging my colleagues to come along next year, hopefully in person. 

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Dr Susmit Roy 

While I was disappointed that I could not be present at the Bega Valley physically, I loved every bit of the online version. 

It would not be an exaggeration to say I was bit envious looking at the pictures which Sandra and Adrian shared from their practice location i.e. Bega. 

I have worked in surgical services in rural Australia in 2 states viz, QLD and NSW. I know the challenges and boundaries a surgeon is faced with in rural/regional setting, but the rewards are far greater I feel. 

There are no long commutes to work, you would know almost everyone in the town that you are practicing in, you can have a huge house with an endless backyard and best place to raise a family. Last but definitely not the least – you are helping the people who are keeping Australia running. The communities and families who do the hard work of toiling on the land, raising animals are all benefitted by you. Nothing can be more rewarding than that. 

Understandably, it can be a bit challenging to be isolated from the big cities but luckily most regional centres that have surgical services are not too far from the capital cities. 

This conference, in a bedazzling way, explained nicely the surgical issues that can be encountered in a regional setting and how to master them. 

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Dr Matthew Watson 

The 2021 PSA virtual conference was a huge success and a pleasure to be a part of. 

The PSA conference allows trainees like myself to identify role models and foster connections with those who aspire to or are already working as a rural surgeon. The virtual program was innovative with presentations covering the various areas within the specialty of rural surgery. 

A highlight was the ‘Common Bile Duct Masterclass’, which focussed on transcystic exploration of the common bile duct. This was a valued learning experience for me. 

I have a strong interest in rural research, and it is encouraging to see and hear what work is being undertaken across Australia. This enthusiasm will hopefully lead to more multicentre rural surgical research in the near future. 

I hope to continue attending PSA conferences in the future and make it an annual event in my calendar. 

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Dr Romy Mondschein 

I’d like to thank everyone involved in holding the PSA 2021 conference -it was an interesting and enjoyable time. For me, the resounding message was regarding health advocacy. Throughout, presenters advocated for their communities in a variety of ways. One presenter organised funding for new technology that would improve pre-operative logistics for rural patients. Another described the efforts to develop treatment protocols that maintained efficacy, while improving accessibility for rural patients. Advocacy is integral to the health and survival of our rural communities; it cannot be assumed that the gap between rural and urban health care outcomes will dissipate spontaneously. I found the persistence and innovation of presenters very encouraging. 

An overseas colleague made an interesting observation regarding the increasing sub-specialisation of surgery and the implications for rural communities. Specialisation holds many advantages. However, it is not difficult to imagine that the resulting requirement to attract multiple specialists to rural towns is more difficult than maintaining a single generalist. These communities are at risk of service reduction or even loss. This is something to be wary of in Australia too. The benefits and difficulties of generalist training is a topic that would benefit from intergenerational consideration within the surgical community, as part of service provision planning for the future. 

Finally, I enjoyed the collegiality demonstrated by panellists and presenters. Many offered their expertise post-conference, with a willingness to provide a second opinion to anyone around the country. This insight into the rural support network was lovely to see. 

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Dr Jack Archer 

The PSA ASC 2021 was the first formal conference I have attended as a junior doctor. As a JMO interested in a future career in rural surgery, I was excited to participate in this conference, and it did not disappoint. It was a great experience seeing a group of like-minded senior doctors who had all ended up working in rural areas share their profession through a friendly and informative forum. The ability for students and junior doctors to ask questions and engage in sessions was excellent. 

I completed my degree at the University of Wollongong and was selected as a Rural Doctors Network Cadet in my final university years. I found that although the university and the Rural Doctors Network had a strong commitment to improving rural health and training pathways, this interest and commitment seemed to decline as you progress through surgical training. The highlight of the conference for me was seeing that rural surgeons actively advocate for rural surgical recruitment, training, and development. Hearing the many general surgeons talk about their life experiences and careers in rural areas was incredibly motivating. Dr Butchers and Dr Velovski spoke passionately about rural surgery and the Royal Australian College of Surgeons' commitment to improving training and access for rural surgery, and I am now increasingly optimistic regarding my future surgical career. 

I will certainly be attending the conference again and look forward to seeing future developments in making rural surgery a more appealing, accessible, and flexible training process 

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Dr Aadil Rahim

The only good thing to come out of the COVD-19 pandemic was that the GSA PSA 2021 Conference proceeded as a virtual experience, meaning I could still attend from my regional training placement. Throughout the day, multiple different healthcare professionals and members of the MDT heard the talks playing in the common room and stopped to listen. The experiences of the surgeons starting new techniques in their regional hospitals was both inspiring and insightful. Highlights included the ‘How I Do It’ presentations by Dr Cindy Mak and Dr James Kollias, which described key techniques by two very experienced breast surgeons that I hope to incorporate into my future practice. I would highly recommend the conference to all my colleagues and look forward to attending in 2022, hopefully N95-free.

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Dr Lauren Turner

My name is Lauren Maree Turner and I am a PGY2 surgical RMO at the Canberra Hospital. I was fortunate to participate in the Bega PSA 2021 ASC conference on August 5-7th. Due to the ongoing restrictions of COVID-19, the conference was made virtual this year, however this did not detract from any of the excellent talks or teaching occurring over the three days. I was fortunate enough to present a talk on my audit work in sentinel node biopsy for melanoma in the ACT on the 6th of August. As a pre-SET junior doctor with an interest in surgery and research, I found this to be an excellent venue not just to present my own work but also to be inspired by the projects of others. I have an interest in Melanoma and found the melanoma update and masterclass with Professor Robyn Saw, Dr Rebecca Read, Dr Kevin London, and Dr Robert Dawson to be an excellent update to a complex and rapidly advancing field. From a more general perspective, I thoroughly enjoyed the talk by Dr Deepali Poels on Women in Surgery, an ongoing balance that we should all remain mindful of in supporting our colleagues, regardless of our gender. I would like to thank the speakers for their excellent contributions, the conference organisers for organising this event and for giving me an opportunity to present, and the PSA Rural Coach Grant team for supporting me to present and attend (virtually) this fantastic conference.

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Dr Lauren Daneel

As I excitedly booked my accommodation in Bega in a gorgeous cottage farm-stay, the thought of COVID de-railing my first PSA experience was far from my mind. As usual, the fantastic team at GSA were quick to adapt and make the decision to go virtual. This was to be my first time doing a podium presentation for my research, so I had booked in study leave and keenly bought tickets to all the social events! Unfortunately, given it was first week of the new trainee term- my fellow wasn’t onsite, and my senior SET registrar was doing exam preparations, I soon realised I would have to fit the conference in around my elective lists and on call commitments. As such, I rushed out of the operating theatre to quickly present my research in a tute room streaming from my mobile hot-spot! The technology platform was seamless and intuitive, and I quickly felt connected and engaged by the facilitators, who provoked well-considered questions that will further my research project. It was a privilege to join with the breadth of rural surgeons and rural interested trainees across the country. In future I will advocate for taking protected study leave to fully engage in a virtual conference as if it was in-person.

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Dr Yuen-Ting Wong

Thank you for organizing the PSA conference 2021. The PSA virtual conference was well organized despite the difficult time during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was my first PSA experience, and I have to say I greatly enjoyed the conference. The PSA provided an excellent platform for the rural surgery community to share their knowledge and expertise. The conference was also educational and inspiring. I am impressed by the number of fantastic research papers presented during the PSA conference. The highlight of the program for me was the “Women in Surgery” presentation by Dr. Deepali Poels. Indeed, even though more than 50% of the medical graduates are women, the surgical world remains extraordinarily male-dominated. With the great effort from the many remarkable female surgeons who worked as pioneers in the surgical field, opportunities for junior female doctors in surgery have now greatly improved. I have no doubt that we will see more female surgeons in the field in the future. In the end, I would like to thank you again for giving me the opportunity to present my research findings at the PSA conference 2021. I am already looking forward to the next PSA conference!

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Dr Ben Scott

The challenges of the last 18 months in Australia have made me yearn for the return of normalcy. When the registration for the Bega PSA came around, I was excited by the prospect of travelling interstate to meet with likeminded colleagues from around Australia. Flights and accommodation were organised, and anticipation was at an all-time high. Then, another COVID outbreak. As cases escalated, it became clear that the conference would not go ahead in its original format and would be delivered online. Was this going to be the same PSA that I remembered from previous years? Thankfully, it lived up to the hype. The talks were highly informative, interesting and practical. The presentations on pancreatitis, surgical site infections and management of umbilical hernias had an immediate impact on my daily practice. As a trainee keen to practice in a regional area it was great to hear from the local surgeons in Bega and the Viking surgeons in Scotland. It gave context to the life of a provincial surgeon and the challenges they may face. I thoroughly enjoyed the PSA for 2021 and would encourage all to consider attending the 2022 edition. Hopefully we will have put COVID behind us and can meet up in person. Many thanks again to the organisers for putting on a fantastic program.

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Dr Janaka Balasooriya

I participated in PSA Annual Scientific Meeting as an International Medical Graduate and it was a great opportunity to see variety of aspects which are important in practicing in rural areas. The range of surgical pathologies encountered by general surgeons in peripheral areas, management options when subspecialty colleagues are not available, facilities and resources available, upgrading knowledge and skills as rural surgeons were the main themes I was looking for, as most of the IMGs will continue their careers in this type of environment. Bega ASM covered most of these topics and it was good to hear the rural surgeon’s firsthand experience. Not only these, there were lots of tips for preparation for the fellowship exam and especially the procedural videos were great learning opportunities. Although it was ultimately delivered as an online programme amidst lockdowns across multiple states, it was presented in a way that one couldn’t see a major difference except for missing the breath of Bega valley. I take this opportunity to thank the organizers and with all these positive experiences, I am looking forward to joining the next conference.

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Dr Clara Petcu

I am so lucky to have been able to attend the 2021 PSA conference in its virtual format. While being unable to visit wonderful Bega this year, the conference going virtual brought rural surgery that little bit closer to home and more importantly, showed us the future possibilities of remaining connected and up to date with our skills regardless of remoteness. Rural surgery is founded upon strong networks and mentorship and in this age of virtual, strengthening our community has just become easier. As a current JHO, I found myself feeling motivated and encouraged by the strong junior doctor and training registrar presence at the conference. I truly appreciated all the posters, articles and mini lectures, and the support shown to all presenters by their senior mentors. My personal highlights were the Common Bile Duct Masterclass involving a fantastic discussion about maximising resources to increase service provision in rural centres, as well as the Viking Surgeon lecture and discussion about rural surgery on an international level. Finally, but in my opinion most importantly, the PSA 2021 conference served to highlight exciting new research and innovative techniques becoming available in rural centres, breaking the old rhetoric of rural surgery as limited surgery. I hope more surgeons and future surgeons get to experience this conference and come to understand that rural surgery is never the end of the line, but rather the beginning of an adventure. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity and I look forward to gathering again next time, virtual or otherwise!

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Dr Arushi Singh

PSA Bega 2021 was a special experience for me. When I was younger my father, who is a rural GP surgeon, would attend PSA as a delegate when it was held in rural NSW (e.g. Lismore) and my mother, younger brother and I would join as associates. As part of the associate’s programs, we would have a great time with the other associates, getting our hands dirty in crafts workshops or touring historical (and spooky) buildings together. PSA Bega was the first time I joined PSA as a delegate. I was also fortunate to be chosen to present a paper.  Although my family and I were sad we were unable to go to Bega this year, it was still a sweet moment to be able to present at PSA with my parents watching on from home. So thank you so much to the PSA committee for this privilege! As I am passionate about rural surgery, it was inspiring to see and (virtually) meet a wonderful panel of similarly enthusiastic persons from Australia and abroad. All the lectures and presentations were excellent. I especially liked the initial talk emphasising and comparing the importance of non-technical skills in surgery, the military and aviation. Non-technical skills which I found was very overlooked in my education when I was a JMO but then was an expected skill as a surgical trainee.  Overall thank you PSA and GSA for a wonderful learning and networking experience and a memorable opportunity. Thank you also for considering me for this grant. Hopefully see you all at PSA next year!

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GSA looks forward to continued support of rural surgery as a career.