Bridging care gaps: Dr Sarah Fairhall's approach to rural health

  • Left: Dr Peter Bourke and Dr Sarah Fairhall Right: Performing Skin Prick Testing in The Cairns Hospital Immunology clinic
    Left: Dr Peter Bourke and Dr Sarah Fairhall Right: Performing Skin Prick Testing in The Cairns Hospital Immunology clinic
  • Quick stop at Yarrabah Bay while conducting community outreach
    Quick stop at Yarrabah Bay while conducting community outreach
Dr Sarah Fairhall, Rural Generalist, MBBS, FACRRM, AST Paeds, Grad Cert Allergic Dis

Dr Sarah Fairhall is a Rural Generalist who is passionate about the health needs of regional, rural and remote communities.  Her passion began while attending Medical School at James Cook University in Townsville and Cairns and grew while completing her junior doctor and then General Practice training in various regional, rural and remote locations in Queensland. 

After completing her General Practice training, Sarah returned to Cairns to commence training to become a Paediatrician.  Ultimately, she knew in her heart that moving to a big city to complete Paediatric training just wasn’t for her and so instead began  badgering the local Paediatric Director to create a GP position within the Paediatric Department at the hospital.  The goal: to help improve patient access to care through the provision of additional appointment slots but also to provide a conduit for bidirectional education, advocacy and conversation between hospital and primary care specialists. 

Two years later an innovative temporary project position was created within The Cairns Hospital Paediatric Department to do just that, and Sarah was the successful applicant.  Not long afterwards she was appointed to the role permanently. 

Sarah sees patients with General Paediatric medical conditions and has also discovered an unknown, but now consuming passion of caring for people with allergic and immunologic diseases.  Allergic disease in Australia is increasing at an alarming rate and gaining access to health professionals with the nuanced knowledge required to explore, investigate and manage these conditions is becoming harder and harder.  For patients in regional, rural and remote communities it can seem almost impossible. 

With such a demand for immunology and allergy care Sarah was able to successfully commence a job within the adult Allergy and Immunology clinic as well.  Within her GP roles in the public hospital system Sarah is supported by many non-GP specialist colleagues but has the distinct privilege of being mentored and supported by the only Clinical Immunologist and Allergist living and working in Northern Australia, Dr Peter Bourke.  He has inspired Sarah to undertake additional post graduate training in Allergic Disease which ensures her patients receive quality and up to date care.  Sarah can now confidently and competently assess, investigate and manage patients with food, drug and insect allergies, eczema and hayfever as well as appropriately explore conditions that mimic allergic disease across the lifespan. 

While she clearly has a passion for allergic disease, Sarah also has a passion for sharing her knowledge with fellow health professionals, particularly her General Practice colleagues who are often the first port of call for patients with allergic concerns.  Her role in the hospital-based clinics, and the support of her hospital-based non-GP specialist colleagues, has allowed her to hone her skills and pass them on through newsletters, online forums, formal workshops, informal “on the run” teaching and providing phone advice to local colleagues. 

Sarah also works as a General Practitioner in Yarrabah, the largest First Nations community in Australia, where she is able to share her areas of special interest and knowledge with patients and colleagues alike.  Sarah is now providing a primary care model of allergic disease and paediatric care, on country, which is incredibly special and humbling. 

Sarah’s hybrid roles across hospital-based care and primary care allow her to provide the very best care for her patients as well as bridge the knowledge and understanding gaps that unfortunately occur between these often siloed models of health care. 

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