Mingenew raised Dr Pippin Holmes loves being a country GP in Geraldton

By Leah Tindale
March 11 2022 - 10:00am
Geraldton-based GP Pippin Holmes, who hails from a family farm at Mingenew, loves the problem-solving element to her job, as well as the community connection it brings.

FINDING a good doctor can be like finding a needle in a haystack, especially one that takes their time, is thorough and genuinely cares.

Often in rural areas, there isn't the luxury of multiple doctors to pick and choose from, however thankfully for the people of Geraldton, they have general practitioner Pippin Holmes.

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Born and raised in Mingenew, Dr Holmes not only understands rural health and the important community element it plays, but she also provides quality health care.

She was quite literally born into farming and rural life, taking the opportune moment to greet the world during seeding.

Attending the local Mingenew Primary school, she credits her community for providing a rich upbringing.

After a challenging time in boarding school and feeling homesick, she decided to have a gap year back home on the farm while taking the time to decide what she wanted to do for her career.

During this time she worked on the farm, as a Mingenew Irwin Group trials assistant, a NAB bank teller and a CBH sampler, all the while uncovering her loves and solidifying the decision to go into medicine.

"I really enjoyed science, problem solving and, I know it's a very cheesy thing to say, but being able to help people and the community," Dr Holmes said.

"In general practice you get to see the patient from start to finish.

"It's not like a hospital where they go back out into the community and you never really hear what happened to them, whereas in general practice you've got that ability to follow the patient's journey all the way through, which I love."

Throughout university she would always come home for holidays, working on the farm or at CBH.

She then spent her second last year of medicine in Esperance, through the Rural Clinical School of WA (RCSWA).

It was during this time the decision to go into general practice was cemented, as Dr Holmes worked with people who inspired her.

"I found my niche, people who were generalists rather than specialists and were able to have a lot of variety in their work," she said.

"They were incredibly skilled doctors, very intelligent but also able to have a wonderful life in a rural community and do the things that they enjoyed.

"What I appreciated in a community as small as Esperance was finding a real range of doctors who all practiced their medicine in a slightly different way and that was accepted and a good thing for the community as well."

This positive experience with the RSCWA helped Dr Holmes secure contacts and a position as a junior doctor in Albany after her studies, later returning full circle to work for them as a lecturer and mentor.

"There's well over 100 students now that participate in this program and there are 15 different sites across WA," she said.

"You really get to immerse yourself in a rural setting and be taught by local doctors and healthcare professionals, while completing your whole year of university studies in a rural location.

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"The RCSWA is competitive to get into, as medical students recognise how valuable the experience is for them in their training and it's also a wonderful opportunity to live in a country town."

After six years of training and three years working as a hospital doctor, Dr Holmes decided to take a gap year for some well earned rest and recovery.

Knowing she would be returning to study for an additional three years to become a general practitioner, she took the time to return to the family farm.

During this time she relished joining back in on the seasonal work - enjoying the wide open spaces, travelling and even started teaching Les Mills Body Attack exercise classes, which she still does on occasion in Geraldton.

"It was just about coming back home after being down in Albany for a few years, and getting more time on the farm again before heading into study mode," she said.

"It's a long road, I went to medical school in 2008.

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"Having completed my general practice training, I feel like I've just got over a huge mountain."

As she shares her love for the quiet and team mentality that working on the family farm brings, you can tell that the country is deep within her veins.

"I enjoy being able to achieve a goal together as a team and getting that instant gratification, which you don't always get in general practice, we can say, we've finished this paddock today and got this many tonnes off," she said.

"I enjoy coming back to the farm, being a part of the Mingenew community, because it keeps me very grounded."

As a mentor and lecturer with the Rural Clinical School, motivating new doctors to come back to the regions is something she is hoping to encourage.

"Relying on locum workers is not a sustainable model, they definitely have a role but having an on the ground workforce that is respected and can give the consistency that a community needs is really vital," she said.

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"I appreciate that it's challenging to maintain a rural workforce, but I think in the past two years with the border closures it's apparent just how important it is to have a sustainable local workforce.

"General practice is about building relationships with your patients but also with your local health services and knowing what resources are available and what would be the ideal fit for the patient sitting in front of you.

"Having local people who understand the local health landscape will always produce good outcomes for the practice at the end of the day."

Part of getting people to take up positions in rural settings is making rural high school students aware of their options, Dr Holmes said, and that there was support available to them at every step.

"Feel free to reach out to organisations such as the RCSWA, who would love to support people through their journey into medicine and beyond," she said.

"Find mentors that you aspire to be and a chat with them, the RCSWA is a great starting point for people who might not have that sort of contact yet."

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To all medical students, she really hopes they look into a rural placement, even if they plan to have a metropolitan-based career.

"You'll have a better appreciation of the challenges in the rural medical landscape, but also get to enjoy the wonderful communities," she said.

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