Bulls Medical Centre Practice Team. From left to right: Karen Whiteman, Dave Baldwin, Julie Ellery, Allie Maskill, Di Mant, Karen Greer, Jarod Cook (former registrar)

Provider Story

Rural practice – unpredictaBull

In a central North Island town that is full of ‘Bull’, there is a Doctor who is capaBull, adaptaBull and, on top of that, affaBull.





Doctor Ken Young has a bone dry sense of humour and an adventurous streak which in 1990 drove him to move with his wife, Lesley, from Glasgow, (where he trained at the Victoria Infirmary), to Taihape. Thirteen years later, in 2003, the family moved to Palmerston North where Ken began working at the Bulls Medical Centre.

Ken works in partnership with Dave Baldwin, who is also known as the Bulls Flying Doctor, and a group of part-time practitioners. While the team is based at the Bulls Medical Centre, their constituency is much wider. Dave travels large areas of the country in his Cessna providing pilot medicals and Ken’s work encompasses being a board member and clinical director of the Wanganui Regional PHO, Taihape Health Limited, and as a volunteer at Ironman NZ.

“I think rural practice is great. There are lots of fun things to do that extend the scope of your practice and keep you engaged in all aspects of health,” he says.

“Bulls Medical Centre is a PRIME practice meaning that it is contracted by St Johns for an ACC and Ministry of Health scheme to provide an emergency primary response in a medical emergency.

“This makes the best use of the services available and improves pre-hospital emergency care by calling both primary health care practitioners and ambulance services to emergencies in rural areas. So, we get additional training and resources from ACC and get to go out there and help people where and when they need it. It’s very satisfying and can challenge our skills.”

The Centre is also a training practice for the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

“We have some great young doctors coming through and thoroughly enjoy the challenge of new talent.”

The diversity of the Bulls community is a source of variety and unending interest for Ken.

“We have a mixed practice with a significant number of elderly patients as well as farmers and their families. Many of our patients work in Palmerston North, Wanganui and Fielding. We have a large rest home in the community and there are also a number of families affiliated with the Ohakea Air Force Base and the two freezing works in the area. These businesses are ACC Accredited Employers and we work closely with them to help retain people in the workforce who have such things as over-use and gradual process injuries.

“In a rural community you tend to work with other groups.  It’s a very friendly way to do business and to achieve better results.  An example of this is working with the local Ngāti Parewahawaha ki Ohinpuhiawe marae, who have helped us and the PHO with cultural training.”

Ken believes he has seen a decrease in the number of injuries over the years but there is still a lot of room for improvement on the roads.

“Generally farmers are more aware of accident prevention and more cautious in going about their work. Most now wear ear protection and safe or protective clothing, visors or hard hats as a matter of course. Now-a-days you almost always see them wearing chaps when using a chainsaw, and with much improved safety practices in the forestry industry, injuries from chainsaws and falling things are much less frequent.

“Drivers on rural roads still have much to learn though. Low traffic density allows us to get away with all sorts of things that we could not do in an urban environment and we just don’t drive defensively.  The drink-driving message has had some success.  There has been significant change with many people using dedicated drivers when they are going to have a drink, but there are still a few intransigent groups who won’t change and they are putting others at risk. It is very frustrating.”

Naturally Ken has a lot of experience and contact with ACC and volunteered this feedback.

“It’s great that ACC provides cover for all people and all injuries. It is a model of social insurance that other countries envy. To introduce a private scheme that provides the same levels of cover for all would be unaffordable.

“There are frustrations, like with coding or when we think a patient appears to be pushed too hard to recover. For example, matching the possibility of a patient returning to work with the practicality of their physical abilities is sometimes problematic.  However, usually case manager involvement can assist with this process, and like any good working relationship, the resolution lies in effective communication. This is something we are all responsible for.

When asked if he has any plans to change his career or move to a larger centre Dr Young rounds up the story with “Why would I? We are the best medical centre in town. We know this is true because we are also the only one.”

Published 01/10/2012

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