Kaikōura needs you!

Practice news
30 October 2018 | Written by Katie Mathieson

Beautiful Kaikōura is thriving, the coast road is open, and the tourists are back.

All it needs is a brace of new GPs to work in its new integrated Kaikōura Health Centre, Te Hā o Te Ora, taking pride of place on the hilltop beside Takahanga Marae.

This is a chance to work alongside two very experienced rural hospital doctors: Andrea Judd and Chris Henry who have been working at Kaikōura for 25 and 15 years respectively.

The drawcard is the exciting and incredibly varied work: Chris says, “In an isolated place you need to be open to everything because we’re the call out people for the mental health emergency, the suicidal teenager, for someone who’s having a miscarriage, or having chest pain, or kids who are really sick.”

“That’s the joy of the work: we’re generalists, but the skill mix is quite difficult to recruit to – it’s a broad scope ” he says.

But Chris and Andrea want to emphasise that there is plenty of support from a great multidisciplinary team. Chris says, “I’d like to reassure people that most GPs would have enough skills to do this job – anyone with a reasonably broad training base like a New Zealand trained Fellow: just come with a positive, can-do attitude.”

“You’re not going to be dealing with it on your own: you have very experienced backup.” On cue, the rescue helicopter thundered overhead, landing to pick up a stroke patient that Andrea had spent the morning stabilising after responding to the PRIME red callout.

“My morning is a classic example,” says Andrea: “I’ve done a chest x-ray and dealt with pneumonia on someone who’s desaturating, I went out to the stroke patient and two of us lifted them into the ambulance, I came back here and removed a lesion, assessed a knee injury, assessed an in-patient with fractured ribs and another with an ischaemic-looking toe, monitored the stroke patient while waiting for the heli – and in between I took the trainee intern through those things, and talked to her about the patients she’s seen on her own including one whose hypertension is out of whack.”

Kaikōura is well-known for its picture postcard scenery, fresh seafood and welcoming residents.

The health facility has point of care testing, ultrasound, digital radiology, and a very good videoconferencing unit to use in trauma, but as Andrea says, “You can’t just trot down the hall and have a CT: you have to use a lot of your clinical skills and think about it.”

So the work is interesting, but what about the place? It took me only two hours to drive from Blenheim to this iconic Kiwi coastal town, encircled by snowy mountains, pastures and ocean. I can report that the new road is fantastic: only two stops of a few minutes through roadworks, which passed quickly with oohs and ahhs at the sculpted hillsides.

The town has recovered amazingly well, nearly two years on from the 7.8 Kaikōura earthquake.

Going by the number of campervans, and tourists strolling around on a mild, showery midwinter day, Kaikōura is definitely back on the map for its famous whale-watching, seal-spotting, surfing and swimming with dolphins.

The shops, cafes, motels, campground, i-SITE and library are open and busy, and there are firm plans for a new-build waterfront Sudima hotel and a community recreation centre with pool.

With four primary schools and a high school, fishing, diving, and ski-ing and vineyards not far away, and median house prices at $406,000 (with big sections), what’s not to like?

Health Services manager Angela Blunt says that the health centre provides for a community of about 5,000, with 3,850 registered patients, and 900,000 visitors a year.

Locals (back row) Chris Henry, Luana Catton, Julia Smedley, Angela Blunt, (front row) Lyn Anderson, Andrea Judd and Jude Clark

“We have quite a high proportion of elderly - one in five are over 65. There’s a higher than the national average Māori population at 19%; we have a strong Ngāti Kuri hapu.”

She also points out that continuity of care gives huge job satisfaction. “Doctors go from the community and general practice to the in-patient side of things, so our patients have the same team caring for them the whole way through. When they go back out into the community we have a multidisciplinary huddle where the district nurse, whanau ora nurse, doctors, practice nurse, hospital nurse, and sometimes the social worker attends. Everybody knows where the patient is at, so they get what they need.”

Angela says they get a lot of good feedback about the team and nursing staff: “Personalities and people you can learn from will be a massive drawcard for anyone considering coming here. One of the trainee interns on his rural GP placement recently said the three weeks with Andrea and Chris and the team here were the highlight of his medical study, and he learned more than in his entire medical degree.”

I left Kaikōura feeling somewhat envious of the team’s lifestyle and closeness, and reassured and excited for their future. I also got a last little insight into Te Hā o Te Ora life when a team member popped her head around the door to say: “Remember lip-syncing tonight!”