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My community service experience and where you should do yours

06 September 2023


Dr Michaela Wells discusses her community service experience and explains why a military sickbay or hospital can offer a wide-range of rewarding learning opportunities. 

When most doctors decide about their placement choices for community service they often know which department they want to work in and have a clear plan or timeline post community service. I guess you can call it a clear vision or goal in their career. I wasn’t very interested in one department and I had no passion for a specific field. The only option that actually gives you a general experience during community service is casualty or emergency department work or a district hospital, both of which I did not particularly want to do.

Well luckily, sometimes the choice is taken out of your hands with the process of community service. I was allocated to a military sickbay. At first, I tried everything to switch out and get another placement but like with most people I was not able to switch and no one wanted my allocation. I eventually made peace with my allocation. In hind sight, I am so happy with my allocation. My year at the military sickbay has been great. Lots of people are scared of a military placement for various different reasons. It started off a bit rocky as our contracts were only sent to us in early January which meant we had to start a bit later than anticipated.

I think a military sickbay post for community service has been the best option for me for various reasons:

1. You get very good exposure to 'GP medicine' and patients. You will be exposed to the same type of patients that you would see in a private practice. The military sickbays see three types of patients, the current uniform members, people who were in the military and left early and then the members who retired at the age of 60 from the military. Each of these patients have different benefits and function like a medical aid. You get a lot of exposure on how medical aids work, referrals to private doctors and providers. This will make you more confident for the year after community service if you are thinking of going into private practice.

2. You work in a multidisciplinary team that functions well. Most of the sickbays have radiographers, dieticians, social workers, psychologists, physiotherapists and biokinetics. Referrals to these various allied health services are much easier than government hospitals. Communication between departments is also much easier because the size of the sickbays are much smaller than a hospital and you can easily just walk to your colleague to discuss a patient.

3. Each sickbay also has a well stocked pharmacy and knowledgeable pharmacists that makes prescribing much easier. The pharmacy also has a wide range of medications that you would not have access to in other government facilities either because they are not seen as first line treatment or because the government do not provide treatment for those conditions. Again this helps you bridge the gap to private.

4. Working in a military environment also exposes you to the military culture. For example they have something called 'CHA' - this stands for continuous health assessment. Members of the army are expected to undergo a health evaluations every four years. This gives you exposure to health evaluations and processes that are similar to those done in private for policies.

5. There is also a lot of time to improve your skills. There is ample time for you to study and attend various courses like BLS, ACLS, ATLS and PALS.

6. There is an option to do overtime but the setting is not nearly as busy as at hospital and the overtime hours are much less and are manageable.

7. The sickbay is very unpredictable, some days you can see 70 or 80 patients and other days only 20. It is difficult to predict what your day or even week will be like. Some days you work yourself dead and other days are really quiet. For me this was nice, I enjoyed the busier days but having a quiet week or two was also convenient especially when studying.

So for a intern who currently feels, ‘I don’t find myself working in any specific department’, consider applying for a military sickbay or hospital. The work is very rewarding and you are able to follow up your patients and practice continuity of care.