Lord Howe Island: An inspiring journey

THE University of Melbourne has an active rural health community for students. 

I’ve been able to attend rural health conferences, rural health events, and rural careers days through my involvement with the university's student-run Rural Health Club - Outlook.

Outlook is one of 29 Rural Health Clubs in Australia linked by umbrella network the National Rural Health Students’ Network.

The NRHSN is intimately involved with a number of agencies that work to combat the shortage of doctors in rural areas, including the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine.

Since starting medicine I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with both Outlook at my local university level, as well as the NRHSN at a national level.

This year I am both president of Outlook and also sit on the NRHSN Council.

What I’ve found most valuable about my involvement with these rural health groups is their opportunities for rural medical placements. Placements bring to life what other rural-themed events can’t, because the real benefits of rural life need to be experienced.

Recently I was invited to sit on an interview panel for ACRRM, for the college’s rural medical placement program – the John Flynn Placement Program.

The program is funded by the Department of Health as an initiative to combat rural medical workforce shortages, and is open to all Rural Health Club members. 

Selected John Flynn Scholars undertake eight weeks placement – two weeks per year, over four years – at a GP practice or hospital in a rural or remote community. 

Entry to the program is highly competitive. To be selected candidates need to demonstrate both a passion for rural health and a unique skill set.

Although I interviewed candidates this year, last year I was on the other side of the table competing for spot myself! 

I applied for the JFPP because I felt that I had a pretty good handle on what rural life was like in central Victoria, but really no idea what rural life was like elsewhere in Australia. This country is so diverse, so when we as future medical professionals talk about ‘rural health’, I think we should have an appreciation for the differences that exist between rural communities in different states.

When I was initially notified that I had been selected and that my JFPP would be at the four-bed, remote hospital on Lord Howe Island (two hours off the coast of NSW), I was very excited for the adventure. 

I had no idea what to expect. Googling didn’t yield many results, as the majority of the island doesn’t have Internet and cell phone coverage is non-existent! 

Life is completely different on the island than mainland Australia, and when I discovered that on arrival in early January I was worried I’d hate it. But by the time the first day was complete, my entire perspective of island life had changed. 

The one doctor and nurse - who together run the hospital - inspired me. They care for 400 residents and up to 600 tourists on top of that in the summer months. They encouraged me to serve a community that needs me and reaffirmed why I was passionate about rural health.

I also had the chance to appreciate unique aspects of nature; I was never previously one for the outdoors, but as I lazed at the white-sand beaches, trekked the mountains, and went snorkelling with 90-year-old green sea turtles, I started to realise that being out in the open wasn’t half bad. 

The sense of community on the island was phenomenal, and made the hectic days at the hospital even more worthwhile. 

Every Saturday the locals hold a picnic at Ned’s Beach and I was invited to stuff my face on the sand with a home-grown, home-cooked buffet.

At Lord Howe Island the unique challenges of remote healthcare really do come with unique rewards. We hear this often as medical students, but experiencing it first-hand resonated with me in a completely different way. 

All in all I can’t wait to travel back to Lord Howe again next year with the JFPP. 

While the student rural health communities at the University of Melbourne keep me active, their opportunities to actually go rural keep me passionate.

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