Contemplating locations for your GP training? Here are 12 compelling reasons you may want to consider Stanthorpe, a rural town in the heart of Queensland’s ‘Granite Belt Wine Country’. Stanthorpe-based GP Registrar, Dr Bailey Smith, shares her experience of living and working in the town known literally as the ‘coolest’ in Queensland.
1. Continuity of care
Dr Smith divides her time between the local Stanthorpe hospital and the Granite Belt Medical Service, one of two practices available to GP registrars.
“I do two days a week at the practice – starting about 8.30am and finishing at 5pm, and other days at the hospital,” she says. “I also do a weekend [at the hospital] about every three weeks.”
“The best part about working in a rural town is the community. You get to know your patients. It’s nice to follow them and their medical conditions through time. You can get a nice cycle of care – from their acute care and further down the track you might see them in the practice. When you’re in med school you find the rural practices are the happiest with their life and their work. You’re part of the community and your job’s fulfilling.”
2. Diverse learning experiences
Dr Smith says she thrives on the variety offered by practicing medicine in a small town. “My days can be quite different, normally full of lots of people, from young people having their first pregnancy to women’s health to your favourite old people coming in for their tune-ups. You usually have some of your regulars in your day. I tend to do a bit of women’s health. Some days there’s an emergency or two – something that needs suturing. At the hospital I do anaesthetics, managing emergency to ward patients.”
She says general practice covers everything, which has been great for expanding her skills and knowledge. “You’ve got to know a lot of stuff, and have a very wide knowledge. You’ve got to know the breadth of everything, not necessarily the depth.”
3. Supportive, community-focused learning environment
Now in her fifth year of being a doctor, Dr Smith, hadn’t worked in a general practice until coming to Stanthorpe this year. “I’ve only trained in hospitals,” she says. “I moved from training in Rockhampton – in a bigger hospital. Before that I was in Toowoomba.”
Having a supportive work environment has been invaluable with the transition into general practice. “I come from hospital based training. It’s a different type of medicine, a lot to learn and very different procedures. Last year I just put people to sleep all year.”
“My bosses are always available and supportive,” she says. “It’s a good practice with good nurses and admin team. We sit down and have morning tea together everyday – we have our fruit platter. Its a nice environment to work in, supportive and friendly.”
4. You get to make a difference in rural Australia
About 30 per cent of Australians live in rural areas. However, only 15 per cent of medical specialists work in these areas, according to a study published in Human Resources for Health in 2017. Those in rural areas are more likely to suffer from co-morbid conditions because of lack of specialist care, distances to reach such care and the time between follow up.
Statistics from a 2013 joint report by ACOSS and The National Rural Health Alliance Inc show the economic disadvantage of Australians living outside the capital cities also impacts their health.
“Australians who are most disadvantaged socio-economically are twice as likely to have a long term health condition as those who are least disadvantaged,” the report states. “Not only is health worse for many people in rural and remote Australia, but healthcare is less accessible to them.”
5. A more peaceful, connected way of life
Stanthorpe’s cosy population of about 5,600 people fosters rich and rewarding relationships with the community. It also makes for a slower pace of life.
For Dr Smith, the two-minute drive to work means she often ducks home to enjoy lunch in her break. “I could walk to both of my works in under 10 minutes,” she says.
In fact, Dr Smith and her partner (who is also a doctor), are so smitten with Stanthorpe, they hope to settle in the town. “We’re looking out for a house here – hoping to stay,” she says.
In fact, numerous studies, including a 2015 Griffith University paper, report that those who live in small towns experience more happiness than their city-dwelling peers.
6. Fruit and wine country
Stanthorpe lies in the southern highlands of southeast Queensland, 223 kilometres southwest of Brisbane. Situated in an emerald valley of the Darling Downs, the town is carved by Quart Pot Creek, which eventually flows into the Severn River.
At an altitude of 814 metres, it’s reputedly Queensland’s coldest town and ideal for cold climate agriculture. The surrounding areas are strewn with wineries, apple, stone fruit and berry farms, meaning there’s no shortage of seasonal agricultural festivals and produce to explore.
According to Dr Smith, one of the highlights of living in Stanthorpe is fine food and wine and great restaurants. “Good food can be a rarity in rural towns. What I really like is the diversity here. That makes social outings enjoyable. There’s a nice mix of things to do: wineries, apples, strawberries farms, lots of ice-cream and apple pie, cellar doors.”
7. A chance to embrace the seasons
Stanthorpe’s temperate climate makes for a pleasurable relationship with the seasons. Average temperatures range from one degrees Celsius in winter to 27 in summer. The town’s parks and gardens host hundreds of deciduous European trees which change colour in autumn. In Spring, wildflowers sparkle in the National Parks. During winter, the town is occasionally dusted with snow and perfect for wine by the fire.
Annual festivals further delineate the seasons. These include the Primavera (in spring), the Australian Small Winemakers Show and the Stanthorpe Show. During the Apple and Grape Festival you can watch grape crushing competitions, join a winemaking workshop and more. Winter festivities include Winter in July and Snowflakes in Stanthorpe – a snow-based festival featuring ice skating and other winter-themed activities.
Dr Smith says: “You have to like the cold otherwise you will struggle. I like the cold. My partner is not so much of a fan. It’s regularly below zero. Make sure you’ve got warm clothes and just expect it [to be cold]. Have a good heater. And a good pair of ugg-boots.”
8. The natural wonders
Beyond indulging in delicious food, wine and microbreweries, Dr Smith says she enjoys the nature-based activities in the region. This includes hiking in nearby Girraween National Park. Girraween means ‘place of flowers’ in Aboriginal. “It’s about a half an hour drive,” she says, adding: “After all that food you need to exercise it off.” The National Park showcases gigantic granite boulders like The Pyramid and Castle Rock, forest and native wildflowers.
Eighty kilometres south west of Stanthorpe in the Severn Valley, lies the Sundown National Park. This rugged and remote 16,000 ha wilderness region offers opportunities for walks, camping or 4WD drives amongst scenic gorges and the Severn River and its tributaries. Further afield, other natural attractions include Bald Rock National Park and the Queen Mary Falls in the Main Range National Park.
9. Accessible to the coast and city
Stanthorpe lies within reach of Brisbane, the New South Wales border, Byron Bay, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. This means it’s possible to access the city and coast.
For Dr Smith, the location is ideal. While enjoying the positives of being based in a rural location, she’s still in reach of her family in Toowoomba, the Gold Coast and Brisbane. “It’s not too far to Brisbane,” she says. “So you can go back to the big smoke and see family and do your shopping. It’s three-and-a-half hours to Brisbane and the Gold Coast and two hours to Toowoomba. You can do it in a weekend.”
10. Affordable housing
With house prices at a premium in the major cities, relocating to Stanthorpe is a great starting point for entry into the housing market. Or for simply saving money on accommodation.
Based on ABS statistics, the median sale price of a home in Stanthorpe was $255,000 in 2014. This compares to the national median of $460,000 for a house within Australia in 2014.
11. Heritage townscape and culture
Heritage-listed buildings such as the Central Hotel and Post Office add charm and character to the town facade. A former tin mining town, today Stanthorpe is renowned for wine and attracts many visitors. Every week there’s seasonal food and wine markets as well as artisan crafts to browse and enjoy.
12. Work and education opportunities for family members
Stanthorpe has reasonable employment opportunities for a town of its size. The main employment sectors are agriculture, healthcare, social assistance, construction and retail. However, there are also opportunities in real estate, financial and insurance services, accommodation and food services.
Stanthorpe also boasts the Queensland College of Wine Tourism as well as a campus of the University of Southern Queensland.