Student doctors get a taste of farming, regional life

Students of the Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program with Bruce Rock GP Dr Caleb Chow.
Camera IconStudents of the Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program with Bruce Rock GP Dr Caleb Chow. Credit: no

About 160 medical students from Notre Dame and Curtin Universities have been temporarily deployed to the Wheatbelt as part of a unique immersion program.

The Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program was developed in direct response to Western Australia’s acute doctor shortages.

With the majority of those shortages experienced in rural and regional areas, the program was identified to provide doctors with a first-hand experience of medicine in a rural community.

From March 13-16, medical students immersed themselves in rural life billeting with local families across seven Wheatbelt towns – Bruce Rock, Cunderdin, Kellerberrin, Merredin, Narrogin, Southern Cross and Westonia – to learn about the realities and daily challenges faced by regionally located families.

Rural Health West chief executive officer Tim Shackleton said the program was developed to shift student perceptions about rural medicine early in their studies.

“People are attracted to rural medicine as it offers a broad scope of practice, you can build lasting relationships with patients and can provide true primary care,” he said.

“However, here in regional WA, we struggle to attract home-grown doctors and have the heaviest reliance on overseas trained medical graduates to care for rural communities compared to other States.

“Studies show a link between early exposure to rural medicine and a willingness to practice medicine in a rural location.

“This program offers students a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in rural medicine and to truly understand the challenges and needs of remotely located communities.”

Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program students attending farm safety demonstration at Innes Farm near Kellerberrin.
Camera IconWheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program students attending farm safety demonstration at Innes Farm near Kellerberrin. Credit: no

Wheatbelt shires were instrumental in developing the program, in collaboration with universities.

Shire of Kellerberrin chief executive officer Raymond Griffiths said the Shire and local families were pleased to personally host the students.

“It’s vitally important to our communities that we attract new doctors to the region,” he said.

“We’ve got some dedicated and remarkable doctors out here; but many work alone and some are nearing retirement age.

“This program is a fantastic way to showcase the benefits and trials of a rural lifestyle to medical students and we hope it will encourage many to consider a career in the Wheatbelt.”

Up to 75 rural families hosted the medical students, offering them insight into their lives including first-hand experience with the challenge of accessing medical care in their community.

Merredin resident Sally Taylor was one of the rural family community hosts.

“I think it’s really important to support and nurture these future doctors and give them a really positive experience of country life,” Ms Taylor said.

“I believe it will make them well-rounded doctors even if they don’t return to the country to work.”

During the four days, students participated in a range of activities including visiting local hospital and medical practices, held teddy bear clinics with students at the local primary school, conducted health pit stops in conjunction with the local GPs, visited the Rural Clinical Schools at Northam or Narrogin,

Students were also given a taste of farm life, with a tour to local high schools or agricultural colleges and attending a farm safety demonstration.

Their trip concluded with a wrap-up community ‘thank you’ dinner.

The Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program is a collaboration between the Notre Dame and Curtin University, Rural Health West, WA Primary Health Alliance and the Wheatbelt East Regional Organisation of Councils.

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