Flying daily out of Roma, Qld, doctor Alison Shearer provides specialist obstetrics and gynaecology services to a waiting room that covers 575,500 square kilometres of the outback.

Story By Annabelle Brayley

Most days of the week Dr Alison Shearer hits the floor at 6am. Fifty minutes later she’s at Roma Airport ready for a 7am take-off, with a triple-shot latte and protein bar in hand. As the incumbent obstetrician and gynaecologist with the Flying Obstetric and Gynaecology Service (otherwise known as the FOG Service), Alison spends 17 of every 20 working days flying to clinics over a vast area of Queensland. From Winton and Longreach in the north-west to Biloela in the east, Stanthorpe and Goondiwindi in the south and Cunnamulla and Quilpie in the south-west, the service covers 575,500 square kilometres.
The FOG Service was established in 1988 by Dr Jim Baker. The purpose then was, as it is now, to provide specialist obstetrics and gynaecology services to women living in rural and remote areas.
Flying was deemed the only practical way to cover the vast distances involved and the FOG Service shares two aircraft with surgeon Dr Russell Bennett, who is also based in Roma. Three pilots are available on rotation and the two services juggle their schedules where possible to share anaesthetist Dr Mark Garrett.
While a large part of Alison’s work is providing gynaecological consultations and elective surgery, she can be called on to provide emergency services anywhere across the region. These are usually obstetrics cases – mostly caesarean sections – and as often as not happen in the middle of the night. She’s on call 24 hours a day seven days a week and is relieved when a locum specialist is available.
Alison flies into a different centre each day and first up she undertakes any scheduled surgical procedures. With the theatre list completed, she will triage the referrals that have come in during the past month and then proceed to consultations. Referrals come from either general practitioners or the rural women’s health nurse in each area. First consultations invite an in-depth and thorough examination and every clinic includes some follow-up patients and any urgent cases. Assuming she hasn’t been diverted to an emergency elsewhere, at the end of every day there’s the flight back to Roma. The exception is when Alison visits Blackall, Barcaldine and Longreach when she overnights in between.

This story excerpt is from Issue #72

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2010