Dr Rohana Wanasinghe is a Rural Generalist surgeon and practice principal in Narrabri, north-west NSW. He trained with RVTS to gain his FRACGP in 2015, and is now an RVTS supervisor.

Recently, Rohana was named GP Synergy’s Supervisor of the Year for the New England / Northwest training region for his outstanding contribution to training the next generation of GPs.

At home in Narrabri...Dr Rohana Wanasinghe (photo courtesy GP Synergy).
At home in Narrabri...Dr Rohana Wanasinghe (photo courtesy GP Synergy).

Tell us a little bit about your background – where were you raised?

I was born in a small town called Bandarawela, in the central hilly part of Sri Lanka.

Did you always want to become a doctor?

My mother made me become a doctor – I wanted to do engineering, but I agreed with mum and did Medicine!

Where did you work as a doctor before coming to Australia?

I graduated from the University of Peradeniya in 1998 and undertook my early years of Medicine at the University Hospital. Then I undertook surgical training and ended up working as surgeon at Kalmunai on Sri Lanka’s east coast. At the time there was a civil war underway, and Kalmunai was a border town with lots of war activity, so I had to treat the victims of both sides of the war – the army and the terrorists. As an aside, I did lots of deep sea diving during this period.

Why did you end up moving to Australia to work as a doctor? Was this a difficult decision?

I came to Australia as a part of my surgical training for one year and then did the exams that enabled me to get general registration as a doctor here. I got through all the exams and my wife did the same. Then we decided we will stay here, as it offered a better life for our kids.

What appealed to you about working in general practice?

I like to do more engaged work with my patients and to follow them up. As a rural GP, I get to do more than a city GP too. I do surgery, skin cancer medicine and emergency cover, in addition to my general practice work.

At what point in your career did you decide you wanted to be a procedural GP?

I started as a procedural GP in surgery from the beginning. If I could not do surgery I would not do general practice alone. I still love surgery.

How did you end up coming to Narrabri?

I was looking for GP and rural surgical work, and Narrabri came up as an option. I had been looking for a similar job for many years, as I was fed up with the monotonous surgical work in the city.

What was your initial reaction when you first arrived in Narrabri?

On our first trip to Narrabri from Newcastle, I turned back halfway thinking ‘This town is too far!’ But when the offer for a position at the local practice came through, I visited the town and Dr Moroney and his team gave me a warm welcome and introduction to the area. Narrabri has been our town ever since.

Rohana with his wife (and fellow GP) at home on their property.
Rohana with his wife (and fellow GP) at home on their property.

How difficult was it culturally being an international medical graduate, and a relative newcomer to Australia, when you moved to Narrabri? What were some of the initial challenges?

It was difficult during the first few years of my life in Australia. When I started to work at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, all my colleagues were from Australia. I adapted well, however, and did not have any issues when I came to Narrabri. I still have a good network of friends in Narrabri. I will be in Narrabri until I retire. Our whole family likes Narrabri, and it is our home now.

How long have you been in Narrabri, and what has kept you there?

I have been working in Narrabri for the past seven years. My wife likes it here too. We like the working relationships we have and the quiet rural location. We have a few acres with a garden, and my wife grows roses. We bought the general practice here and have improved it over the years. We now have six clerical staff, four nurses and five doctors. We have a wonderful team at Bridge Medical Centre who really are like family and look after each other.

My wife is also a GP, and she helped me out in my early days of general practice with advice and guidance through to Fellowship.

Even now, she is a wonderful support in helping to manage the practice, looking after other doctors when I’m working at the hospital, and managing the home-front and the kids! She takes a huge load of work off me, and this has helped greatly in our success here.

Being able to do surgery as well as general practice, and the variety of clinical work, has also been important in keeping me here. I now do a mix of skin cancer medicine, surgery two days a week, and general practice. More of my work these days is in skin cancer, and I’m the only doctor in town who provides general surgery services.

What do your medical duties at Narrabri Hospital involve?

Surgery, endoscopy and colonoscopy, hernias, vasectomies, laparoscopic tubal ligation, small skin flaps, emergency laparoscopic appendicectomy, closed reduction of fractures, and Caesarean sections.

How did you end up choosing the RVTS training pathway?

It allowed me to do my GP training while working at Narrabri. This was the best option for me as a Rural Generalist.

What were the highlights of training with RVTS?

It was wonderful training and allowed me to network with others during the workshops. The nature of the training program also dovetailed well with my rural general practice work, while covering the GP College requirements. RVTS offered a very good mentoring program with one-to-one supervision, exam preparation programs, and weekly webinars.

What were some of the challenges in remote training, and how were they overcome?

The long distance to travel was the main thing, but online learning has helped to overcome this.

You are now an RVTS supervisor – why did you decide to do that?

I have been blessed to have been trained under RVTS. As a supervisor, I’m now enjoying helping other trainees. My current registrar is based at Boggabri, 50 kilometres from our town.

What are some of the challenges in remote supervision?

Again, distance can be a factor, and not being able to see them working face-to-face, but regular phone calls and use of the online portals makes it easy.

What do you think you’ll be doing in ten years’ time?

I’ll likely still be working as a GP and surgeon, but more concentrated towards teaching.

What interests do you have outside medicine?

Gardening and skiing.

Thanks very much for answering our quick fire questions, Rohana!

Carving up the slopes...Rohana enjoying some ski time.
Carving up the slopes...Rohana enjoying some ski time.