JASKARANDIP Singh has studied, worked and travelled widely in Australia, but there was something about Bendigo that made him stop and set up roots with his wife and young child.
“Bendigo has a great balance because of being closer to Melbourne, and having all the facilities and amenities available, and also the privilege of a 10-minute drive to work, and 10-minute drive to everything,” he said.
“I like the practice, I like the place, I like Bendigo, so me and my wife thought we should settle down here now.”
Dr Singh – or Dr Jas, as he prefers – is one of six GPs to start practicing full-time at Bendigo Community Health in 2018. It’s a significant increase on the health service’s GP cohort.
After completing his undergraduate studies in India, Dr Jas worked in Queensland as a physician trainee. But his yearning to move into general practice caused him to end up in Bendigo.
Dr Jas came to Bendigo from Swan Hill early last year to continue his training as a registrar as BCHS. He liked it so much, he decided to stay on a permanent basis.
For a young GP now based at BCHS’s Eaglehawk clinic, the range of patients with chronic and complex conditions meant he was able to expand his experience, while at the same time helping vulnerable people.
“With community health, you’ve got all the other health professionals working with you. You’ve got podiatrists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, so you get a lot of support,” Dr Jas said.
“I also like treating chronic diseases, which again was one reason I stayed on because there’s a large population with chronic disease – I love helping these people.
“People are living longer and getting these diseases. It’s also to do with… not-so-active lifestyles.”
The difficultly in attracting doctors to work in rural and regional areas has received plenty of media attention recently, but Dr Jas said there were a lot of young GPs eager to work in places like Bendigo.
He said there were often restrictions on the number of international graduate doctors who could move into a certain area, and they needed to be designated as a district of workforce shortage before it could happen.
One of the GPs appointed by BCHS fell into the workforce shortage category, and was able to get a sponsorship to stay.
Until 2018, BCHS has had a fairly stable workforce.
But as the population of Bendigo grows, and ages, and medical conditions become increasingly complex to treat, there was a need to increase the services offered.
The health services runs the Doctors in Schools program at Weeroona, Eaglehawk and Crusoe colleges, as well as Wedderburn P-12, allowing students to book an appointment one day a week to see a GP.
The GPs particularly focus on the mental health and sexual and reproductive health of high school students.
The program started at Crusoe and Wedderburn last year, and its success has seen it expand into other schools.
BCHS also offers men’s and women’s health programs, refugee services, a needle exchange program, LGBTIQ support, programs for people living with HIV and more.
Ridmi Ranasinghe came to work as a GP at BCHS to apply her knowledge in reproductive health and skin conditions after previously working in Mount Gambier.
She completed her degree in Sri Lanka and then her fellowship and postgraduate studies in Australia after her husband did the same.
It was a desire to send her son to a good school that lead her to choose to live and work in Bendigo.
“It was mainly because of the schooling, and it’s close to Melbourne, so travelling is easy,” Dr Ranasinghe said.
“I don’t like busy places as much, I like to stay in a calmer area rather than a busy area.”
Having only worked in Bendigo for a few months, she was yet to spot as many trends among her patients.
But she said it was apparent that knowledge of contraception, particularly among younger generations, was something that could be improved.
“People don’t have much idea about relevant contraceptive methods. The younger generation, they come to ask for the pill quite often, it’s very popular,” Dr Ranasinghe said.
“This knowledge depends on the education level, and the lifestyle as well.”
Being able to attract young GPs is a source of pride for BCHS director of primary health care services Graem Kelly, and he expects there will be more to come.
It was not always an easy task, and Bendigo’s community assets needed to be highlighted.
“We’ve been able to attract by the type of work we’ve got, by the type of community Bendigo is, the schools, the restaurants, the entertainment, the variety of life,” Mr Kelly said.
“We’ve looked at advertising the totality of the community and the quality of life, the essence of Bendigo, and that’s what has assisted us in attracting people
“Maybe the way in which we’ve been approaching it has been successful at the moment.
“We’re able to expand our range of services across our three sites, and continue to be a real bulk billing clinic that offers high quality medical services across the Bendigo region.”
The need to support people with opioid addiction was becoming increasingly important in Bendigo, supporting the work at the Methadone clinic in Kangaroo Flat and the Nova House detox and withdrawal service.
“We’re also in the process of changing our systems of process in looking at legal drugs, so where people have been prescribed drugs historically and notionally become dependent on those drugs, we’re looking at programs and planning to assist them,” Dr Kelly said.
“There are drugs of dependence of an opioid nature, benzo-nature, a Diazepam nature, of which we seek to assist and plan to better manage patients.”
It’s just one area where healthcare in Bendigo is becoming more complex.
For Dr Jas, the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged through community health made him excited for the future in Bendigo.
“I think it’s more satisfying for me,” he said.
“I would definitely prefer to work in community health.”