Director of Medical Services, Thursday Island
Dr Marlow Coates is a Rural Generalist Anaesthetist and Northern Director of Medical Services for Torres and Cape HHS working and living in beautiful Thursday Island. As part of his leadership role, Marlow is intentionally working to support and inspire a team that can meet the unique community health demands of life in the remote tropics.
“Being part of a high performing team in an isolated region with a high population rate of co-morbidities is a career highlight. There’s daily rewarding experiences where we’re able to help people in the community through difficult times.”
Rural Generalist medicine in the tropics requires a broad skill mix that can respond to challenges in the community.
“Everyone on the medical team turns up to work right and ready to work each day. They know they’re going to be putting to use their skills and training in a population who really needs it. I make sure I know all individual doctors well so we can tailor their rostering and give them exposure to their interests to make sure they can get a rewarding experience out of each day, while still serving the needs of the community. I try to make sure the work is rewarding personally and tied into our shared team goals.”
Marlow’s efforts to build a positive team culture have gone a long way to the recruitment and retention of key personnel in the far north.
“I want everyone on our team to have more than a job. I want them to have a career and a purpose when they turn up to work. I think a lot of Rural Generalists get into it for that reason and as long as we can make the work fulfilling and rewarding and give them the work life balance they need, hopefully they stay around.”
Recruitment and retention is a key focus in his role as DMS. “We’re working hard at recruitment and retention. The better the experiences the team has up here, the better word of mouth functions for us. As long as we’re not turning people over every 12 months, we’re doing a good job in remote sites.”
Maintaining and improving the quality of hospital services and expanding the scope of primary care are other priority areas for Marlow. “Only 1 community out of 21 in our region has a community-controlled GP practice, and none have private operators, so primary care responsibility sits squarely with us. We have full responsibility and accountability for it. It allows us to tackle that challenge head first.”
One of the realities of working in remote Queensland is retrievals. Ensuring staff are trained and supported to undertake retrievals adds another unique aspect to Rural Generalist practise. “We currently do about 500 rotary wing retrievals per year. About 100 of those have a doctor on board because it’s a high acuity case. The doctors who retrieve undergo training supported by Life Flight and are generally RG anaesthetists. Our RG obstetricians sometimes fly for maternity cases. We have all our cases audited monthly by Life Flight who provide ongoing training.”
Being able to effectively lead a team and respond to the unique health needs of a tropical remote community is no mean feat. Marlow credits his Rural Generalist training for exposing him to good teams with strong leadership which he has worked hard to model in his own career.
“Rural generalist training provided the technical skills required to do the job. The most vital thing it also did was give me exposure to good teams with strong leadership and shared goals. It gave me insight into what it can be like working as part of a high functioning team. Networking with teams that are doing the job you want to be doing is so important. We all want to be part of a team like that in the Rural Generalist space.”
Aside from clinical training, Marlow suggests that emulating good leadership practices, focusing on team culture and seeking exposure to the whole breadth of medicine builds a great foundation for thriving in Rural Generalism.
“It’s important to know what being in a great team looks and feels like during training. It’s supportive, inclusive, always seeking to improve, and puts emphasis on education. Seek exposure across the whole breadth of medicine because none of it is useless. Identify teams that you respect and want to work as a part of. Emulate the way they function. I was lucky to have exposure to a couple of great teams when I was junior and it painted a picture for me of how good it can be. I came to Thursday Island for that reason, and I’ve tried to copy that and create that in the DMS role for my team.”
When Marlow isn’t working, you can catch him enjoying the good life with all the recreational staples of living in a tropical paradise. Fishing, spear fishing, boating and barbequing are a few favourite pastimes.
“Thursday Island and the tropics are a beautiful place to live. It’s a very relaxing lifestyle when you’re not working.”