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Port Macquarie doctor steps out of retirement to join COVID-19 response in Broken Hill

11th October 2021

Dr Michael Thomas was enjoying his retirement in Port Macquarie when COVID-19 reached Australia. With first outbreaks concentrated in urban centres and few cases in his region, there was no call for his services. But later this year when AHPRA announced it was keeping its sub-register open in order to allow former health workers to support COVID-19 vaccination rollout, he thought it was the right time to step up and step out of retirement. 

 Michael Thomas2    
Dr Michael Thomas,  Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation, Broken Hill, NSW

 "I feel that if you can do your bit, then you should. So when AHPRA informed me that my name was back on the sub-register and I could therefore return to practice, I signed up to take the online vaccination course and prepared myself to go where I was needed," Dr Thomas explains.  

Dr Thomas has worked as both a General Practitioner and as an Emergency Physician in the Hunter New England region and Mid North Coast and was familiar with NSW Rural Doctors Network (RDN) through previous work placements in rural NSW. As soon as he received his vaccination certificate he thought he'd give RDN a call.  

Three hours later he had a confirmed placement with Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation in Broken Hill, where vaccination levels of Aboriginal Australians are improving but still below those seen in other Aboriginal communities. 

"I couldn’t believe how quick the whole process was.  RDN has strong relationships with rural and remote health services, so once I spoke to them and they'd reviewed my experience, they knew exactly where I would be best placed. The whole process was incredibly efficient," said Dr Thomas. 

Maari Ma’s Cath Kennedy also found the recruitment process via RDN to be swift and professional and most importantly, offered the support they needed most.  

"We've been having to take GPs out of our main clinics and redirect them towards COVID-19 vaccination and testing, but that's no solution - it's robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Those GPs are needed by the community. That's why having additional health workers come in is so critical," she explains.  

"The process with RDN has been fantastic. We need health workers who have rural and remote experience, and RDN recruits health workers who want to work rurally. We're a natural fit," she adds. 

Another health worker recruited by RDN - a registered nurse - is also on their way to provide additional support. 

Meanwhile, Dr Thomas has begun following up on swab results in the COVID-19 clinic. 

"I'm only two days in but it's a great team here and I'm enjoying Broken Hill. I think I'm really going to like it," he says. 

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