A passion for remote health care

Date published

29 Sep 2017

While her office is now in Cairns, her heart remains in rural Australia. Truer words may never have been spoken about RFDS (Queensland Section) Chief Medical Officer, Dr Abby Harwood.

With over 20 years of clinical experience, Abby has worked in a diverse range of health settings (primarily within remote locations), including general practice and Indigenous health; in-patient/out-patient hospital services; emergency care and remote area clinics; clinical governance; medical education and research; and aeromedical retrieval.

However, after two decades in remote health care, Abby decided it was time to look for her next challenge, and along with it, a change of lifestyle.

“At the time, I was tossing up between moving to Darwin or Cairns when a good friend of mine, who was an RFDS Medical Officer at the time, told me of a position opening at the Cairns Base for a Senior Medical Officer. The timing was perfect,” Abby said.

Successful in her application, Abby joined the Queensland Section in 2016.

“You have to be flexible - other people might call it resilient, but you must have the flexibility to work in a huge range of environments. You must be adaptable.”

Drawing on her experience, she is a thought leader in remote health and is frequently called upon to give her opinion on potential government policies and health issues, having appeared in the media multiple times. Her passion for remote health, and those who provide, is always evident.  

"It takes a certain type of personality to succeed as an RFDS Medical Officer,” Abby says. “It's why you'll find a lot of our Medical Officers have either been working with the RFDS for a long time, or have come from a strong background in remote health care. 

(University of Western Australia); Graduate Diploma in Rural General Practice; Diploma of Obstetrics and Gynaecology; Diploma of Child Health; Australian Certificate of Civil Aviation Medicine; Graduate Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety Management; and a Masters Degree in Public Health. She is a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and holds a Fellowship in Advanced Rural General Practice. 

Despite a wealth of knowledge surrounding health care, which could and did open many opportunities for her throughout her career, it is still the diversity which comes with a career with the Flying Doctor that keeps Abby excited in her role.
“You're never just wearing one hat,” she says. “You're always flipping, for example, between primary health care or chronic disease management, and then an emergency occurs and then suddenly you've got to go into a critical care emergency role. You need a huge amount of knowledge and very wide range of skills, and preferably a real depth of experience.

“I just couldn’t see myself in a metropolitan hospital. It’s the people and the absolute variety of health care scenarios you might find yourself in day-to-day which keeps my passion for the job and the Flying Doctor alive.”