10 May 2023

Weipa a better place as a result of doctor's good work

| Troy Rowling
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NICK Cairns says it is with a heavy heart that he leaves Weipa.

The outgoing Western Cape Director of Medical Services has spent the past week packing boxes, passing on sought after household appliances and farewelling the community he has served for the past six years.

With three children under 10, Dr Nick said he would step back from hospital administration, having accepted a frontline medical position at the Atherton District Memorial Hospital, which will allow valuable time to spend with his young family.

“As you can imagine there is a lot of paperwork involved in running a hospital,” he said.

“And a lot of that paperwork is completed at home during the evening.”

James Cook University remote allied health coordinator Dr Alice Cairns, who is Dr Nick’s wife, will continue in her research role at the Weipa Integrated Health Service, working remotely from the family’s new Tableland base.

Having been responsible for more than 150 staff providing care to an area that stretches from Kowanyama to Mapoon, Dr Nick exits the Weipa health service having successfully introduced a range of additional medical services, increased staff training and research as well as expanding community outreach, with a swag of projects set to come to full fruition next year.

He has also worked diligently to lobby for increased localised medical services to reduce the need for Cape patients to travel to Cairns to seek treatment.

The clearest evidence of his success is the fact that the staff of full-time doctors in Weipa has grown from four to 11 during his time at the helm.

Dr Nick’s tenure in the Cape has coincided with increasing recognition among public policy makers that the best medicine to provide to rural and remote communities must enable flexibility for medical staff to adapt to each unique geographical region.

Currently up to 500 patients must travel each year from the Weipa region to Cairns for CT scans.

With the cost burden of travel often hampering access to this routine procedure, Dr Nick said the introduction of CT scanning in Weipa next year would improve detection of the early onset of illnesses that cannot be located using radiography, x-ray and ultrasound.


RESEARCH has found that positive experiences in rural and remote clinics and extended exposure to these communities are significant influences in attracting and retaining medical staff.

With most facilities outside major centres facing an uphill battle to attract and retain graduates and seasoned professionals, Dr Nick said he focused on building personal job satisfaction among each staff member to influence their decision to stay.

“The nature of our work means every day is very different compared to bigger hospitals, even for student doctors,” he said.

“I believe when people are working to the full extent of their capacities, there is a personal satisfaction in their job.”

He noted there were a number of staff that had spent time as medical students in Weipa, only to return for full-time employment – some even rising to senior positions at the hospital.

Dr Nick’s replacement, Dr Will Horwood, is already a familiar face to locals, having been based in Weipa for more than five years. He officially took the reins on November 27.

“Nick has carried a huge amount of work to get so many projects up and running,” Dr Horwood said.

“It is going to leave a huge gap without him.”

Torres and Cape director of medical services Tony Brown said he wanted to pay tribute to Dr Nick and wish him and his family well in their new home on the Atherton Tablelands.

“Dr Cairns provided tremendous drive and vision, and total commitment, for medical services at Weipa and on the Western Cape during his six years in the position and he leaves the Weipa hospital in an enviable position for the future,” he said.

Dr Nick, who co-owns a boat in Weipa, said he would still be spotted in the Cape when the fish are biting.

“It is a great town and community. We have made lifelong friends and we leave it with many fond memories. It is a great place to bring up children,” he said.

“It is with a heavy heart professionally and personally that we leave Weipa, but we know (the health service) is left in good hands.”

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