Conference for junior doctors aims to build on bonds of shared experience

15 November 2021

Category: Rural


Many doctors would agree that their residencies felt like a whirlwind at times, presenting both professional and personal challenges that were unique and occasionally overwhelming. 

Ralston D’Souza, a rural registrar at Westend Medical Centre in Rotorua, is one of several junior doctors whose personal experience of residency  motivated him to take action to bring his fellow residents closer together. 

Ralston is completeing a dual fellowship in both the General Practice Education Programme (GPEP) and the Rural Hospital Medicine Training Programme (RHMTP). 

While attending a RHMTP residential in Ashburton last year, Ralston and his fellow registrars were reflecting upon how valuable the time spent together was, both professionally and personally. 

“It’s an intense week of learning, but we also spent a lot of time socialising and getting to know each other.“ We all reflected and agreed there was something special about the bond we formed because of the shared experience of being in the RHMTP programme, and we wished we could do it more regularly.

“I decided to try and make that happen by coordinating a conference specifically for people in the programme and when I pitched the idea there was heaps of enthusiasm.”

As a member of the New Zealand Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA), Ralston was aware that there were grants available through the NZRDA Education Trust for initiatives that provided educational opportunities for members, and so he applied and was granted funding to facilitate the conference.

“Our goal was to organise training in key areas we agreed that we needed more experience and support in, for example, orthopedics, obstetrics, and point-of-care ultrasound training, which is an extremely useful skill for rural doctors.”

Unfortunately, COVID-19 intervened, and the conference scheduled for early November 2021 has been postponed until 2022.

“We’re disappointed, but I’m still committed to delivering the event next year as I know how valuable it will be for myself and for others in the programme.”

Ralston says there are a number of challenges facing rural doctors in Aotearoa, from geographical isolation, to supporting patients to access resources required for treatment. He says there are also practical challenges to overcome for registrars, like finding affordable housing rurally and staying in touch with partners, family and friends in different parts of the country.

“Like all junior doctors, I feel like I’ve lived my life in six month increments for the past few years, moving around the Bay of Plenty and central North Island region a fair bit, completing stints in a variety of townships, from Whangamatā to Taupō.

“One of the main challenges I have encountered is the need to problem solve and advocate for my rural patients in order to support them to access the treatment they need, and that’s one of the main skills I’ve learned through completing the dual Fellowship.” 

Although it has been a busy, challenging period of his life and career, Ralston wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“I’ve been so amazed by the skill, passion, and dedication of rural healthcare providers and communities – they’ve been so welcoming to me and open to my ideas, and I’ve taken every opportunity to learn from them and grow as a doctor.

“Sometimes I think rural doctors can feel like they’re forgotten, which is why I am openly sharing my experiences and trying to connect with others to help overcome that barrier of isolation.

“Although it can feel like it at times, we’re not alone – we’re actually part of an awesome community of like-minded people and we just need to reach out to each other.”

To find out more about the conference, email Ralston at