Medical students' rural life the right prescription
The Spencer Gulf Rural Health School (SGRHS) should top the priority list of medical students approaching their fifth year.
This much is the message relayed by current students in the program who believe they have been afforded opportunities not readily available in the city.
Despite coming from the city, student Thuy Pham said the experience working in a rural community has been invaluable.
"I have gained immeasurably being away from the city. There are only 17 students in our program and we have had to think on our feet, sometimes see patients on our own, identify what is wrong, take notes and then share them with the doctor. It's been a fabulous learning curve," she says.
Established in 2001, the SGRHS is a joint venture between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. It is a multidisciplinary entity funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing which brings together a University Department of Rural Health (UDRH) and a Rural Clinical School (RCS) as a single operational unit.
Based in Whyalla, it operates from two campuses: one at the University of South Australia and the other at the Whyalla Hospital.
The School also supports a number of Learning Centres throughout the region including Port Augusta, Booleroo Centre, Port Pirie, Minlaton, Maitland, Port Lincoln, Clare and Kadina. These Learning Centres are equipped with dedicated student facilities including student accommodation, study areas, libraries and up-to-date information technology.
The SGRHS comprises a multidisciplinary team of highly trained and experienced health professionals and key support staff.
Staff have a range of backgrounds including health disciplines (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, mental health, podiatry), administration, business and finance, public service, education, clerical and information technology.
The purpose of the SGRHS is to "conduct education and research to improve the health of rural and remote communities".
It does this by providing quality placements for undergraduate and postgraduate students; by assisting in the planning and establishment of effective models of health service delivery; by conducting research and evaluation to improve the health of rural South Australians; and by providing education, training and support to existing health professionals in the region.
From her new base in Whyalla, Thuy said her friends could not understand why she would want to leave Adelaide.
"I am now at a point of even considering practising in a rural area when I graduate. As for the shops and malls, the Internet takes care of that," she said.
In echoing Thuy's comments, fellow student Michael Findlay said he was able to build up his clinical skills.
"One of my goals is to work in Africa, perhaps Uganda or Sudan, which would allow me to use my skills obtained in a rural setting," he said.
Melbourne-trained Dr Jonathan Newbury, an Associate Professor with the Spencer Gulf Rural Health School, says the rural health school provides for excellent training.
"The students are seeing up close an experienced practitioner, or a surgeon. They are with the surgeon in the operating theatre and this kind of experience is invaluable. In the city, there are too many students for this to happen," he said.
He adds the students obtain grassroots clinical medicine skills and knowledge in the country.
"We also have a great bunch of students. They are aware of the challenges ahead, I have complete confidence in them and believe they'll do well in the medical profession," he said.
Now in his sixth year, Nick Frost was based in Whyalla last year and found the placement rewarding both professionally and personally.
"Due to the nature of smaller communities, we came to consider those we worked with as friends, not simply tutors. And as such, we gained an enormous amount both in and outside of work," Nick said.
"Clinically, we had one-on-one exposure to both patients and tutors - something that happens a lot less in the city due to the constraint of numbers."
Story by Howard Salkow