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It was at her uncle’s medical graduation where Dr Cherelle Fitzclarence (then aged five) proudly declared she wanted to be a doctor.

Decades on, Cherelle is living that dream, working as a Senior Medical Officer and GP at Karratha Health Campus.

Having worked across rural Australia for about 30 years, Cherelle began her medical career in New South Wales, before moving to Darwin with her husband Graeme and their three children.
While in Darwin, she practised obstetrics and paediatrics before adding anaesthetics to her list of procedural skills.

During this time, Graeme was diagnosed with a critical heart condition, which altered the course of their lives.

“Graeme ran a successful spray painting business, but following his diagnosis and life-saving heart transplant, he needed a new career. He decided to study nursing and then moved into paramedicine before pursuing medicine at UWA, so we returned
to Perth.
“He is now a GP anaesthetist and is also the palliative care doctor for the West Pilbara. In addition, he is Director of Clinical Training here in Karratha.”

Keeping it in the family, Cherelle and Graeme’s daughter and son also work in rural health.
Their son is an anaesthetic trainee and their daughter an emergency nurse in Karratha.

“Our oldest son is an engineer and conversations around the dinner table are definitely interesting.
“Once we were able to move away from Perth, I worked in Broome for Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services, where I was the first rural renal GP for the Kimberley.”

In 2017, the Fitzclarences moved to Karratha where Cherelle has worked as a District Medical Officer, Acting Regional Medical Director and now as the Senior Medical Officer for the West Pilbara. She has been involved with the roll-out of the TeleChemotherapy service, which has enabled local patients to access chemotherapy and aftercare services much closer to home.

Most recently she has provided leadership for the Pilbara’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

An advocate for rural training and upskilling Cherelle’s hard work and dedication has resulted in Karratha Health Campus hosting interns for the first time in its history.

“Intern rotations are 10 weeks and we have rotations in Emergency and General Medicine. The interns see a diverse mix of presentations, attending the wards, admitting patients, performing procedures including CPR, chest tubes, patient sedations and others. Every day is varied.”

Cherelle also has a role as medical coordinator for The Rural Clinical School of WA and said the introduction of interns at Karratha would help build a potential future medical workforce for the region.
She is a fierce advocate of the Rural Generalist Pathway, and also the Chair of the Pilbara Health Professionals Network.

“Coming to Karratha, juniors get to see what rural medicine is like, they get to pick the brains of other doctors and work out where they want to go or what they want to do next.
“There’s also a lot of pastoral care and I think that is an important component.
“They are very much part of a small team here – they are not supernumary.
“They also become part of the community, playing in team sports, attending community events – there’s nothing like it.”

Cherelle said she was grateful to the Postgraduate Medical Council of WA for the opportunity to have the intern program extended to the Pilbara and looked forward to hosting many more aspiring rural generalists, who she hoped would shape the future of health in rural WA.

“You can make a difference and you physically see the difference and the way you can influence systems.
“It’s affirmation if you want to make a difference.
“Every single day is different, and we just love our students and junior doctors; they become family.
“Every regional town has something wonderful to offer – just come and give it a go.”

Picture: Graeme and Cherelle Fitzclarence at the Karratha Health Campus.

Acknowledgement of Country