‘An incredible and challenging job, a completely unique world of medicine, a wonderful cultural and personal experience, and journey after journey from one paradise to the next’, is how Queensland doctor Tim Baird summarises his time volunteering in New Ireland Province in Papua New Guinea.
Born on the Gold Coast, Tim grew up in Alice Springs before settling back in Queensland. Always interested in science and sports, Tim studied physiotherapy and then medicine at the University of Queensland. He started further training to become a respiratory physician but knew he wanted to work overseas in some way.
Tim took 12 months off to study tropical medicine, and along with his wife, Samantha, joined up with Australian Doctors International (ADI), a small NGO that receives funding through the Australian aid program. ADI works purely in PNG. ‘It made sense to help out somewhere more local and learn about our nearest country’, he says.
We probably got just as much, if not more, out of our time there than we gave back to the locals.
Based predominantly in the small town of Kavieng, Tim led a group of health professionals on rural health patrols to areas with little health access and basic medical supplies. In this remote region, Tim faced many challenges, including overcoming culture shock and dealing with resource and logistical constraints. But the medical challenges he faced were the biggest by far. ‘There were diagnoses and medical situations you just never have to deal with in Australia’, he says. ‘Most days provided the team and myself with unique medical challenges that would often mean the difference between someone living and dying.’
One particular patient stands out––a two week old baby weighing under two kilograms and in urgent need of medical attention on a small, isolated island with hardly any medical supplies. Tim and his team stabilised the baby, found a skipper and a boat and provided them with fuel, and made an intra-venous pole out of sticks for the six hour journey across open seas. The community on the island gathered on the beach at dawn to wish the baby a safe journey and to say their prayers. Receiving the help she needed in Kavieng, the baby survived and was given a new name, ‘Samantha’, after Tim’s wife.
Tim’s time in PNG had a big impact on him. ‘It was an amazing experience. We probably got just as much, if not more, out of our time there than we gave back to the locals’, he says. ‘It opened my eyes to different cultures and the way they do things.’ As a respiratory doctor, Tim learnt a lot in PNG, where tuberculosis is a big health issue. ‘I got hands-on experience in the world of tuberculosis, and gained knowledge I could bring back to Queensland and my job.’
Now with his respiratory training completed and back working in hospitals in Brisbane, Tim hopes to share his skills and expertise with Australians, using the specialised skills he learnt while in PNG.