UQ Rural Clinical School Toowoomba change of Directors

22 Feb 2021

This month, The University of Queensland Rural Clinical School (UQRCS) Toowoomba Director, Dr George Tucker will hand his stethoscope reins to Dr Andrew “Doogie” Whitcombe after serving in the role for more than 11 years.

Change of Directors: Dr Doogie Whitcombe (left) with Dr George Tucker (right).

Since UQRCS Toowoomba’s inception in 2002, the Director’s role has continuously evolved, however Dr Tucker’s passion to inspire and educate students and drive the rural medical workforce agenda never faltered.

Dr Tucker said the Darling Downs was a supportive community dedicated to the education of future doctors.

“I knew the professional and academic staff were completely committed to providing excellent teaching and experience for UQ medical students but I didn’t quite realise how much interest my patients and the general community had in valuing and nurturing medical students coming to the region,” Dr Tucker said.

As a consultant physician with an emphasis in palliative care, Dr Tucker’s work led him to become part of the fundraising arm to establish the Toowoomba Hospice and subsequently serve on various Hospice committees before joining UQRCS Toowoomba.

“When I started working at the Rural Clinical School I felt burnt out; but I was suddenly in the midst of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students who were brimming with enthusiasm,” he said.

“They gave me the boost I needed.”

In his pursuit to become a doctor, the Mackay born Dr Tucker moved to Brisbane to complete his medical degree. He then ventured to Rockhampton for some post-graduation experience before starting physician training in Brisbane, during which he worked as a Medical Registrar at Toowoomba Base Hospital on secondment from Royal Brisbane Hospital in 1978. He completed physician training in Scotland and set up his private practice in Toowoomba in 1982.

Dr Tucker is proud to have been part of building UQRCS Toowoomba’s brand, as well as contributing to the physical expansion and program offering.

“We have everything at our fingertips to educate students in our regional areas, and our students are so willing and keen to take on the opportunities,” he said.

Educating rural medical students whilst still having a finger on the pulse of the medical world is what Dr Tucker says has been the best part about the role, and it’s this exact balance which attracted incumbent UQRCS Toowoomba Director Dr Whitcombe to apply.

Dr Whitcombe comes into the position with a fresh outlook; after moving to Toowoomba in 2017 to take up a staff specialist Anaesthetist role at the Toowoomba Base Hospital.

“I have held a number of positions in the world of medical education back in the UK, requiring both hands on teaching and managerial skills,” Dr Whitcombe said.

“As Clinical Lead for simulation in Manchester,  I oversaw the creation of two dedicated simulation spaces, and was the course director for hundreds of simulation courses.

“Then as Foundation Programme Director, looking after the newly qualified doctors across our NHS trust sites was more strategic in nature and more similar to the role I am starting here at the UQRCS.”

After completing his Master’s degree in clinical education shortly after arriving in Australia, Dr Whitcombe has been looking for an opportunity to put it to use and was hugely excited by the opportunity to join the team at the UQRCS Toowoomba.

Dr Whitcombe is excited to start working with the team who are establishing the rural medical pathway in the region; a proposal which will allow students to complete the entire UQ medical program in rural and remote placements across the state.

“I’m excited to see the expansion of educational opportunities outside of the major metropolitan areas, and am eager to learn about the more remote communities in which our students spend time on placements,” he said.

“I have already met with a number of organisations that oversee the planning and delivery of healthcare education in Toowoomba and South West Queensland and look forward to working collaboratively to improve the student experience across the region.

“I have an interest in inter-professional learning and hope to help deliver the skills and confidence needed for students to thrive in their first rural positions as qualified professionals.”

Dr Whitcombe has officially commenced in his position as Director, and will work alongside Dr Tucker for the next month during a handover period.

“George has left pretty big shoes to fill and I thank him for his warmth, support and enthusiasm during my first few weeks,” Dr Whitcombe said.

“I know he has a wealth of experience I can tap into.”

Dr Tucker deems himself as semi-retired but will leave one foot in the medicine door, volunteering for the Toowoomba Hospital Foundation and working a day a week as an Academic with UQRCS Toowoomba.