Easing The Doctor Shortage In The Hunter


Many residents have likely suffered because of doctor shortages within the Hunter, however, dedicated GP, Doctor Anne Wakatama, has returned to practice in Cessnock to help relieve the shortage.

Dr Wakatama has over 35 years of experience, graduating in the first medical program class from the University of Newcastle and working in the emergency department in Cessnock before being offered a job in general practice.

She remained there for 16 years before in 2001 applying for a job with the Royal Flying Doctors Service in Broken Hill where she become Chief Medical Officer and remained there for 10 years.

“We used to provide clinics where our plane would fly a group of people out in the morning to different sites out in the far west and we’d do a clinic, then they’d fly us back to Broken Hill at the end of the day,” Dr Wakatama told The Hunter River Times.

“The same doctors would do the emergency flights as well and while I was there, I also took a break to do some Aboriginal health.”

She then started work in Quirindi doing both emergency work and general practice before working in Scone and now returning to Cessnock.

“It’s quite nice because it’s sort of full circle, I started my general practice career in Cessnock and will be concluding my general practice career in Cessnock,” Dr Wakatama shared.

Dr Wakatama finds the doctor shortage, particularly the shortage of general practitioners, concerning.

“I think the doctor shortage is critical really, one of the advantages of having a medical qualification in general practice is you’re never going to be out of a job and it’s interesting to still be working at my age, because it’s quite unusual really in most jobs.

“But there is a critical shortage and one of the main reasons is, it’s sort of almost as if to say well if you can’t do some other specialty, you’ll just have to be a GP whereas in reality being a GP is a specialty.”

Giving primary healthcare a better status, Dr Wakatama suggests, may aid to solve the doctor shortage and its flow on effects.

“I quite often write to the Sydney Morning Herald because a common statement people say is that the person’s ‘just a GP’ which really annoys me because to be an effective GP you have to know about this extreme range of presentations and need to have the interpersonal skills that sustain people,” Dr Wakatama said.

“So somehow we’ve got to convey that in actual fact, general practice is actually a specialty, it’s not just general practice, it’s a different kind of specialty.”