Homegrown doc


Local medical student experiences first life-or-death drama.




Lake Hayes medical whizzkid Olivia Hill is enjoying a baptism of fire as one of the few trainee doctors to emerge from Wakatipu High.

The 22-year-old is home for some hands-on experience as part of her studies at Otago University’s medical school in Dunedin.

And during spells with health services in the Wakatipu and Southland, she’s really had to roll up her sleeves.

In recent weeks, Hill has been getting a buzz from helping local midwives deliver some of Queenstown’s next generation.

But her biggest test was when she was thrust into a life-or-death drama at Gore Hospital.

“A guy came in with chest pains and then all of a sudden had a heart attack and ‘died’,” Hill says. “We had to get him back again – and quickly.”

The rookie went shoulder to shoulder with an on-duty medic, frantically performing emergency resuscitation.

“I had to help the doctor get the man’s heart rate back,” Hill explains. “There was no ventilator equipment like you would get in a city hospital so we then put a tube down his throat to manually push air into him by squeezing a rubber bag.

“That was my job for three hours while waiting for a helicopter to arrive to take him to hospital in Dunedin.

“I had many blisters on my hands after that but I couldn’t stop or he would have died.

“It was my first real experience of being thrown in at the deep end and fortunately the guy survived,” Hill adds.

Hill is one of five fifth-year medical students taking part in the Rural Immersion Programme at Otago University.

The scheme – set up by veteran Queenstown GP Pat Farry – is in its third year and aims to encourage trainee medics to work in out-of-the-way areas in New Zealand, which traditionally suffer from a shortage of medical manpower and expertise.

“I’m delighted Olivia is the first person from the local area to be on the programme,” Farry says. “I’ve known her since she was born, really, and she’s an outstanding student.”

Others could soon follow in Hill’s footsteps, as it’s believed two other former Wakatipu High pupils are now studying medicine.

As part of the course, Hill and her fellow trainees have been spending six weeks on the front line.

Time is split between Frankton’s Wakatipu Medical Centre and facilities in Lumsden, Invercargill and Gore.

“It’s been a real eye-opener for me,” Hill says. “I’ve been getting a lot more hands-on experience than I would get in a typical city hospital.

“In somewhere like Dunedin, you’d usually be one of a group of students standing around a patient’s bed and observing doctors and specialists.

“But being involved somewhere like Queenstown you feel like you’re giving something back to the community.

“Everyone at the medical services here has been fantastic.”

Hill – who became interested in becoming a doctor during her final years at high school – has also enjoyed time at the other end of the medical spectrum.

In the summer of 2007 she won a scholarship to a cutting-edge hospital in Houston, Texas, where she spent a “mind-blowing” month watching some of America’s leading cardiac surgeons at work.

Back home, despite a hectic schedule, keen sportswoman Hill has found time to race in the recent Motatapu and Remarkable Runners Arm Run events – and she can’t wait for the ski season to start.

When she finally finishes her studies, Hill, whose dad Tony is chairman of community health group the Wakatipu Primary Health Organisation, hopes to one day return to the region full time.

“I have many years, a lot of hard work and not a lot of sleep ahead of me yet before I’m properly qualified.

“But my family is sixth generation from Queenstown and it would be nice to have the opportunity to come back and work here at some point.”