Growing up in Tokoroa, Dr Caitlin Whitford knew that rural communities often don’t have the doctors they need and from day one at medical school, she aimed to fill that gap. Now she works as a busy rural hospital doctor in Turangi, returning to her farm each day to care for a menagerie of animals; a place where she can see Mount Ruapehu from her deck.
“I’ve always been fascinated by how the body functions and was quite keen on biomedical research for a while but ultimately I chose medicine for its ability to build lasting relationships with people,” says Dr Whitford.
Her everyday work life is spontaneous and can be uncertain. As well as the regular things people see their doctor for, she’s still testing for COVID-19 each day alongside her colleagues at Pihanga Health. She can be found first on the scene of medical emergencies if the ambulance is out of town on another call and, as a highly trained specialist, can keep her cool when a patient turns up at the GP clinic with severe heart issues.
“The nearest hospital is 45 minutes away and hard for many of our patients to get to so most of the time, we’re it,” she says.
Turangi is in great hands with Dr Whitford this year being named the first recipient of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners’ Dr Amjad Hamid Medal, a prize that recognises the doctor who achieved top marks in the University of Otago’s paper Cardiorespiratory Medicine in Rural Hospitals.
The award was named for another rural hospital doctor, Dr Amjad Hamid, who was tragically killed in 2019’s Christchurch terror attack.