While the role of a doctor is a complex and colourful one in modern day Australia, what are the origins of general practice in the Land Down Under?

A general practitioner – otherwise known as a GP – is a doctor who is also qualified in general medical practice. General practitioners are often the first point of contact for someone, of any age, who feels sick or has a health concern. They treat a wide range of medical conditions and health issues, and often issue referrals to see other medical specialists.

In the medical world, a GP is somewhat of a jack of all trades, but may also undertake further study in specific areas such as womens or mens health, sports medicine or paediatrics. While GP’s see a broad range of patient presentations every day, advancements in telehealth means the chance to also work remotely – which makes defining an “average day” of working in a general practice increasingly difficult. Needless to say, the world of general practice certainly has come a long way. So how did we get to where we are now?

The Origins Of General Practice In Australia 

If we go all the way back, Frans Jansz was the very first European doctor to set foot on Australian shores, via his role as the ship’s surgeon on the “Batavia”. As the pride and joy of the Dutch East India Company, the Batavia was actually on its maiden voyage when it became shipwrecked in 1629, just 40km off the coastline of Geraldton, Western Australia. 

Amongst the 220 survivors was another medical practitioner, Jeronimus Cornelisz. However, the role of Cornelisz was actually as an apothecary, or the one in charge of the medicines on board the ship. It was Cornelisz who was left in charge, whilst the ship’s commander, Francisco Pelsaert, made his way to the Western Australian coastline in a longboat, and on the hunt for water. In Pelsaert’s fifteen week absence, Cornelisz organised a band of mutineers, and went on to brutally dispose of all but eighty of the survivors – sadly including Frans Jansz. 

Somewhat unsurprisingly, all Australian doctors continued to be educated and qualified overseas right up until the 1860’s, when our nation’s very first local medical graduates entered the field. In the early colonial period, the vast majority of Australian doctors were emigrants from the United Kingdom. When the gold rushes started, this trend continued, although a few additional doctors emigrated from America, New Zealand, India, and Europe. 

Medical registration began in NSW in 1838, and was extended to the Port Phillip district in 1844. The medical register was an official list of legally qualified medical practitioners – although army and navy surgeons, who were not always qualified, could also register accordingly. Initially registration was deemed to be voluntary, but the legislation was steadily tightened up, until unregistered medical practice was effectively illegal. 

Fast forward to the 20th century, and the strongest influence on the role of a general practitioner in Australia became the needs and expectations of society. After the events of World War II, the 1960’s saw an increase in specialisations, with many doctors narrowing their scope of practice. Meanwhile, the Australian College of General Practitioners (ACGP), one of Australia’s most revered and respected medical institutes even today, was established in 1958 and coexisted with state-based faculties of the British College of General Practitioners. 

Reductions in the mortality and morbidity due to infectious diseases and injuries, as well as an inexorable rise of chronic diseases, had a major influence on the caseloads of general practitioners. While respiratory conditions continued to be important, chronic cardiovascular conditions, endocrine and metabolic conditions and mental disorders notably increased, which in turn spurred more doctors to turn to specialties that they either excelled in, or were more in demand than they would otherwise find as a general practitioner. 

Today, the process of becoming a general practitioner is no doubt much more complex than it once was. To pursue a career in medicine, candidates need to finish Year 12 and graduate from a Bachelor’s Degree, which usually takes four years. From there, one then needs to complete a four year postgraduate medical program, before completing a year long internship in order to become fully registered – or almost a decade of study.

After finally receiving their qualification, young doctors are left with another big choice – what to specialise in? If you’re new to practicing medicine but are looking for flexibility, diversity and a true sense of community, then it might be time to consider working in a general practice as a serious contender when it comes to career choices. 

Starting Your Career As A General Practitioner 

It comes as no real surprise to see that the practice of becoming a home doctor is on the rise. With increased flexibility and opportunities available, just a handful of the key benefits associated with this career path include greater flexibility, the ability to travel, increased earning potential and ultimately – job satisfaction. 

House Call Doctor are a team of medical practitioners who specialise in optimal at home health care, and provide after hours access to doctors across Queensland. As a wholly Australian owned and managed medical service, House Call Doctor cares about providing access to the very best medical care to people when they need it most, when their regular GP is closed. 

If you’re intrigued by the idea of making your career count, why not register your interest with us to become a locum doctor and build the work life balance that you’ve always envisioned for yourself.