Packing up for the rural life

Publication date
Wednesday, 11 Nov 2020
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rural placement, medical student, ANU Doctor of Medicine and Surgery
rural placement, medical student, ANU Doctor of Medicine and Surgery

Year-long rural placements offered through the Doctor of Medicine and Surgery program provide an eye opening insight into rural medicine and life.

William Zhou, a second year student in the rural stream, says “It’s shocking to learn about the deep inequity some Australians’ face in health, education and future opportunities because of where they live. But, equally, it’s inspiring to learn how ANU academics are leading the way in correcting this.”

The insight William has gained over the last two years of study makes him eager to undertake his placement in Goulburn in 2021.

The ANU Medical School offers approximately 25 places for third year students to spend a year in one of the rural nodes including Bega, Cooma, Cowra, Eurobodalla, Goulburn and Young.

Among the highlights of a long term placement that are repeatedly mentioned by students is the intimacy of the experience, the level of involvement gained, the satisfaction of improving the health and lives of people in a small community, and the beauty of rural living.

Jason El Brihi, who is packing up and heading back to Canberra after his time in Bega says, “The opportunities to be elbow deep in making a difference are plentiful. There are times when it’s just you and a doctor doing a ward round. You get to examine patients, help decide what investigations to order and what management plans to enact. You may be there to follow up results, call specialists for consults, meet with allied health, and facilitate discharge planning.”

“Other times you’re needed to step in as assistant surgeon for procedures. You might even be rushed into a resuscitation and be an active part of the Medical Emergency Team.  It’s all under supervision, but wherever you are – you are participating rather than a fly on the wall.”

Despite the restrictions of COVID19 this year, Jason says he hasn’t felt the burden of the lockdown that many experienced because he was part of a rural community. “In larger cities, parks and beaches closed but here you might be lucky to see a handful of people with all the secret beaches, bays and reserves. I also don’t think we were hit as badly with the whole panic buy toilet paper fiasco, as we are a smaller town with two fairly large supermarkets. Many cafés stayed open for takeaway. I certainly didn’t feel isolated or disadvantaged living in Bega.”

Joseph Beaton, who is originally from Far North Queensland, is also heading to Goulburn for his placement in 2021 and will be on rotation in Crookwell.

“I’m keen to see how rural hospitals function compared to city hospitals. I’m interested in the diversity of illnesses and people you observe in these settings, and I’ve heard that as a rural student I may have more opportunity to be on the frontline than our city counterparts. I’ve also heard that there’s more support from the Doctors, so these are all things that excite me and influenced me to sign up initially,” explains Joseph.

William, who grew up in populous Sydney, and has enjoyed all its creature comforts – great food, coffee, shopping and entertainment – has come to appreciate regional living since moving to Canberra for his studies.

“In the city you’re in a constant state of distraction. Whether it’s the traffic you’re battling, the noise that is buzzing and the rush of the city, I’ve realised I always felt on my toes. Living rurally, I feel far more authentic. I feel more connected with myself; immersed better in our natural environment and engaged in more authentic relationships with others, which is sometimes hard to come by in the city.”

As someone who’s ‘been there and done that’, Jason has the following advice for the new cohort, “Remember to be flexible, relaxed and enjoy the ride. Sure, get stuck into your cannulas but also get stuck into your town. A big focus of your year should be exploring your community. Take the time to talk to a patient for an hour if they seem interesting, follow the doctor who is doing a cool procedure, go spend a day with a physio.  Go where your heart desires.  I hope they have a blast.”