The Outback's General Practitioner: Dr. Minh Le Cong
What I Do:
When tragedy strikes within a 300-mile radius of Mount Isa in northwest Queensland, Dr. Cong fires up his twin-engine turboprops and flies in to save the day. A member of Australia’s prestigious Royal Flying Doctor Service, Cong provides a vital lifeline to remote communities living between the Outback and the Gulf of Carpentaria, “who look to us as their main ambulance service.” That means offering everything from primary and mental health consultations to vaccinations and antenatal care. During life-or-death emergencies — the kind that require aeromedical retrieval — he takes a Super King Air B200 with two stretchers, three people (a doctor, nurse, and pilot), and tons of equipment (like portable machines for ultrasounds and blood tests). One in four of the calls he gets requires this level of aerial rescue.
Cong trained to be a medical MacGyver (aka rural General Practitioner) in Adelaide, where he learned skills in remote critical care and pre-hospital medicine. He also obtained a post-graduate diploma in aeromedical retrieval and transport before joining the Royal Flying Doctor Service a little over a decade ago.
The Most Dangerous Part of the Outback:
“The discipline of what we do is that you need to be prepared — anything and everything can and probably will happen, because there is no backup out here,” Cong says. “Unlike in an emergency room in a big city hospital, there is no panic button to hit on the wall when things go wrong.” From dodging kangaroos on unsealed airstrips to balancing the needs of patients with the safety of the crew during hairy in-flight recoveries ("some have to put out portable kerosene lamps if it’s an emergency landing at night"), every day offers up something a little different. A few dangers, though, are reliable: live-or-die snakebite scenarios have become increasingly common amid warming temperatures in northern Australia; farming trauma during herding season is expected; and vicious motor accidents from tourists ill-prepared for Queensland’s wild extremes are all too familiar. –Mark Johanson