Clinician Profile – Dr Renee Cremen, Rural Doctor of the Year for 2018

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Surrounded by cane fields, Babinda is a small sugar town located on the Bruce Highway around 60 kilometres south of Cairns. Up until now its claim to fame has been as the wettest town in Australia (with an astonishing 4.3m of rain per year). Now it can proudly say that one of its own has been awarded with the prestigious title of “Rural Doctor of the Year Award” for 2018.

Dr Cremen pictured centre, holding flowers

Dr Renee Cremen was awarded the Rural Doctors Association of Australia's honour in recognition of her exceptional commitment to her community and her inspiring approach to teaching the next generation of doctors. The award was presented at the recent Rural Medicine Australia 2018, the joint annual conference of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) and RDAA, held in Darwin. 

Hailing from Cairns, Dr Cremen is a rural generalist doctor in her community, and is also medical superintendent at Babinda Multipurpose Health Service and Yarrabah Emergency Service, responsible for emergency and general wards, aged care, a general practice clinic, as well as administrative tasks involved in managing both Babinda and Yarrabah. Dr Cremen is Adjunct Associate Professor JCU College of Medicine & Dentistry, an ACRRM Fellow with a population health AST, has rural generalist medicine training, certificates in clinical supervision and Emergency Medicine, and is also a GP trainee supervisor. Dr Cremen is married with three young children.

CKN spoke with Dr Cremen about being Rural Doctor of the Year, and her work in Far North Queensland.

I’m a born and bred Cairns girl who was interested in rural medicine from a young age but also brought up in a very educationally-oriented family of school principals. I am heavily involved in mentoring JCU medical students and John Flynn students on rural placement. I was actually nominated for the Rural Doctor of the Year award by one of my previous JCU medical Students – for dedication of the community and to the ongoing education of medical students on rural placement.

It was such a wonderful way to say thanks and give recognition for what I do on a daily basis. I certainly felt like this award was not deserved, but I guess it means I’m doing my job right, and that there will hopefully be other junior doctors who will want to be rural doctors because of what I was able to teach them, or by just seeing why I love doing what I do.

I’m probably more aware than ever of the impact that we mentors and supervisors have on our students. When I stopped and reflected on my own experiences as a student, I have some wonderful people who were special to me as well.

My interest in rural medicine was nurtured by the Qld Rural Generalist pathway of which I was a pre-vocational trainee from a scholarship placement at university. I studied at JCU and completed my internship and residential year at Cairns Hospital before coming to Babinda. This was to complete a rural general medicine year before starting my Advanced Skills training as part of my Fellowship with ACRRM. I never left Babinda, and changed my AST to population health!

Babinda had a workforce shortage at the time that I arrived and the difference that a stable workforce has on the health of a population became very evident. I felt that I was achieving and improving healthcare and that gave me enjoyment in my work, along with the range of medicine that I see all ages and all presentations from our Emergency Department through to our aged care facility and clinic.

"We create relationships with our’s important to treat our patients like they are your family"

Living and working in rural areas presents a range of issues not encountered in city hospitals. The distance to tertiary care and definitive management of serious medical conditions is a challenge. Access to new resources can also be an issue, and attending training can be hard due to distance and staffing ratios. It’s not always easy to get out at short notice to these events as it means the facility will run short on doctors. Occupational hazards are also unique to rural and remote areas – being a farming region, there are hazards that metro areas do not manage. 

But you know what, these people love living and working where they are and they are so appreciative of the care that they receive here. I can honestly say that my team attempt to give the best evidence based care and tailored treatment to their conditions. And we do it on a personal level a bit better due to our smaller size. We create relationships with our patients and we know them well. It’s important to treat our patients like they are your family and give them the same treatment you would expect your family member to receive from a doctor. They often present at their worst moment and what we do, how we act, and how make them feel as a patient, is so critical in their journey.

I think it’s important for our urban/regional colleagues to have an idea about what it’s like for us to work in our department, especially when someone is really unwell and you are calling for support. CKN and our telehealth equipment have certainly made access to electronic resources and face to face time with subspecialists much easier! I’m on CKN multiple times per day! With 3 children, 1:3 on call, and constantly evolving medicine with better ways to do things…I can’t remember everything!