The establishment of a Coptic Christian church in Wagga Wagga has helped ease the shortage of doctors in the southern New South Wales city of 70,000 people and the surrounding Riverina region.
It was the brainwave of Egyptian-born GPs Ayman Shenouda and his wife Samiha Azab.
They found themselves overworked when they first moved to Wagga Wagga more than 20 years ago. Patients had to wait for six weeks or longer to get an appointment.
The couple sought permission from Australian Coptic leaders to buy an existing church building before raising the money for the purchase and conversion into the Saint Mary and Saint John The Beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.
The couple say it has proved to be a huge drawcard for Egyptian educated doctors because a church is central to the spiritual and social lives of Coptic Christians, helping attract nearly 50 doctors to the region.
Overseas-trained doctors are required to practice medicine for up to 10 years in rural and regional areas, but Dr. Shenouda told the ABC the training and support on offer was often “appalling”.
“They don’t mind coming to a rural area, but they worry about being isolated and neglected. I try to give them the security that they need to have to achieve their goals,” he added.
The church now has a congregation of around 200 including more than 60 families and dozens of students from the local Charles Sturt University campus.
Patients no longer have to wait for weeks to a see GP.
“I’m proud to be part of getting Wagga to a place where there’s quality care for patients equivalent to that of big cities,” Dr. Shenouda told the ABC.
He has long been active in the leadership of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and is an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame.