Dr Siva Bala, a regional psychiatrist with the Kimberley mental-health and drug service, says he has to dispense with some conventions of traditional psychiatry to forge ties with remote indigenous communities.
Adopting an overly formal approach to consultation or relying on office or hospital-based environments can be detrimental, he has found. It is often more appropriate to see patients on their own terms, Bala says.
Bala is responsible for helping ensure clients in the region have adequate access to quality mental-health services. He supervises teams of indigenous mental-health workers and mental-healthnurses, trains psychiatrists, takes outreach trips, contributes to policy and planning and looks after his own patient loads.
Every four to six weeks, he flies out of Broome to see clients. That experience is a great way for city doctors to discover the benefits of a rural lifestyle, he says.
‘‘There’s no better way than getting out into the community to gain some appreciation of what our patients are dealing with,’’ says Bala.
‘‘It’s always different, challenging and exciting and enriching in its own way. My job is so different from the kind of work my colleagues do in the city.’’
Bala attained his fellowship with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry in 2007, 14 years after he began medical training. During his postgraduate training in psychiatry, he travelled to the Kimberley region for a mandatory six-month rural placement.
‘‘I did that and fell in love with the place and have essentially stayed on,’’ he says.
The college of psychiatry’s Workforce Survey Report 2014 shows more than 85 per cent of member respondents work in Australia’s major cities. The proportion of respondents working in remote or very remote parts of Australia is less than 1 per cent.
But the college indicates psychiatrists who do work in remote locales enjoy travel opportunities, learning about more diverse client health issues, collaborating with professionals from broad disciplines and making a significant impact on the community.
However, many doctors forego the opportunity because they overanalyse it, Bala says.
‘‘If they took the plunge, they would discover something about the work and themselves that would be illuminating, I think.
‘‘The greater the risks you take, the greater the reward, in many ways.’’
This article first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald on 16 August 2014.