Rural Communities Stand Together in Good Times and Bad

Bega Valley Photo of Bega Valley in summer and winter
15 July 2020

A unique feature of the ANU Medical School is its integrated rural program, which offers rural immersion and placement activities for students in all years of the course. In the first year of the Doctor of Medicine and Surgery program, students can apply to spend their entire third year in a rural community.  Successful applicants - the Rural Stream students - immerse themselves in rural life and placements in either Goulburn, Cooma, Eurobodalla (Batemans Bay and Moruya), Bega, Young or Cowra. They become part of the community in which they live and are encouraged to consider returning to work there once they are fully qualified doctors.

This year has been very different. Catastrophic bushfires directly impacted the Bega, Eurobodalla and Cooma communities. “The months of watching fire maps, breathing bushfire smoke, being confined indoors, packing up and evacuating, all took their toll on our communities. Businesses and homes were burnt to the ground. Some people were left with nothing. The psychological, emotional and physical impact on all of us who live here is still apparent,” explains Dr Judy Toman, Academic Coordinator and Senior Lecturer, Eurobodalla. 

Rural stream students arrived into communities that were reeling from the devastation of the bushfires. Unfortunately, the situation took another turn for the worse when the COVID-19 lock-down starting at the end of March.

“In Eurobodalla, we had completed five days of local placement when the restrictions were announced. It was a very difficult time for a lot of the students. We didn’t have time to establish many local contacts. Many students in the rural stream have partners residing in the ACT, and family and friends interstate, so it was tough to have restrictions on travel to visit them,” explains Ms Katelyn Wilson, a third year rural stream student.

The Rural Clinical School staff knew that regular communication, additional support and flexibility in approach were key to supporting students. Increased pastoral and mental health support measures were put in place along with a communication strategy so that students were updated as events unfolded.

“The team set up various means of communications, including WhatsApp groups for both students and staff during the fires to ensure rapid communication. We have kept these groups going during the lock-down and they have once again proved to be a very effective communication tool especially because of our geographically diverse locations,” Ms Meg Milne, Manager, Rural Clinical School, says.

Ms Wilson points out, “Our rural node staff, which includes administration staff and local medical supervisors, have been outstanding in supporting us. Staff checked in with us frequently, via phone, to check our general wellbeing and to ensure we had adequate supplies of food and household supplies, especially toilet paper! Our local supervisors helped us facilitate our tutorials over Zoom so we would not face the additional stress of making up lessons and tutorials later in the year.”

“We had to mobilise very quickly to ensure students had access to online studies. Despite initial concerns, internet connectivity has held up very well. We have worked with our partners to ensure continuity of relevant clinical training and education with local GP practices and NSW Local Health District and health services. This collaborative approach has ensured our students have been able to stay in the rural communities and continue with this valuable rural experience,” states Ms Christina Vett, Rural Education Coordinator.

In late April students started returning to their placements and by late June, all rural nodes had returned their students to local hospital or general practice placements. No small feat given a one size fits all approach was not possible and guidelines needed to be tailored for each community and health district.

“This year has challenged the strongest and best of our community. For the rural stream students, experiencing a crisis first-hand, while living within a rural community, is a lesson that can’t be taught in the classroom.” Dr Judy Toman says.

Ms Milne says, “It’s been an incredibly tough year for everyone, but particularly locally based rural staff. I’m proud that our team has been able to work collaboratively throughout the challenges to support our students and the wider community.”

RURAL CLINICAL SCHOOL TEAM

  • Professor Amanda Barnard, Associate Dean, Rural and Indigenous Health, Head, Rural Clinical School, ANU Medical School
  • Dr Phillip Gray, Senior Lecturer
  • Dr Bili Malek, Rural Lecturer, Queanbeyan Clinical Skills
  • Dr Barb Cameron, Rural Lecturer
  • Ms Margaret (Meg) Milne, Rural Manager
  • Ms Christina Vett, Education Coordinator
  • Ms Kirsten McCauley, Rural Education Assistant
  • Ms Sneha Ravindra, Senior Finance Coordinator
  • Ms Haritha Rangarajan, Senior Finance Coordinator
  • Ms Shojie Alicer-Britton, Business Administrator
  • Ms Hillary Gray, EA to RCS Head
  • Dr Stewart Sutherland, Chair, Indigenous Health
  • Ms Amanda Wingett, Associate Lecturer, Indigenous Health
  • Ms Kerrie Hogan, Coordinator of Indigenous Health & Student, Engagement
  • Ms Rena Irby, Queanbeyan Clinical Skills, Administration Officer
  • Ms Sally Hall, Research Manager
  • Dr Claudia Slimings, Fellow
  • Mr Sinisa Nesic, Rural IT Coordinator Officer
  • Ms Marita Reynolds, Administration Officer, Bega
  • Dr Erika Jaensch, Senior Lecturer/Academic Coordinator, Bega
  • Dr Simon Bass, Senior Lecturer, Bega
  • Dr AJ Collins, Associate Professor, Bega
  • Dr Duncan Mackinnon, Senior Lecture, Bega
  • Dr Andrew Piotrowski, Senior Lecturer, Bega
  • Dr Christina Wong, Lecturer, Bega
  • Ms Nicole Ferrara, Administration Officer, Goulburn
  • Ms Miranda Heath, Administration Officer, Goulburn
  • Dr Isabella Hawke, Senior Lecturer/Academic Coordinator, Goulburn
  • Dr Tony Whelan Senior Lecturer, Goulburn
  • Ms Lola Radnoti, Administration Officer, Cooma
  • Ms Kylie Douch, Administration Officer, Cooma
  • Dr Rob Wiles, Senior Lecturer/Academic Co-ordinator, Cooma
  • Dr Tim Rumball, Senior Lecturer, Cooma
  • Dr Joanna Copland, Lecturer, Cooma
  • Ms Jordyn Dawes, Administration Officer, Young/Cowra
  • Ms Wendy Hobson, Administration Officer, Young/Cowra
  • Dr Stephen Ross, Senior Lecturer/Academic Coordinator, Young/Cowra
  • Dr Louise Baker, Senior Lecturer/Academic Coordinator, Young/Cowra
  • Dr Bill Meagher Senior Lecturer, Young/Cowra
  • Dr Rosalind Bullock, Lecturer, Young/Cowra
  • Ms Nadene Masters, Administration Officer, Eurobodalla
  • Ms Nicole Wilke, Administration Officer, Eurobodalla
  • Dr Judy Toman, Senior Lecturer/Academic Coordinator, Eurobodalla
  • Dr Michelle Hamrosi, Lecturer, Eurobodalla
  • Dr Alison (Ali) Lavender, Lecturer, Eurobodalla
  • Ms Jennie Gordon, SE NSW Training Hub Project Manager
  • Ms Lucia Lu, SE NSW Training Hub Project Coordinator
  • Ms Suzanne Bain – Donohue, Hub Research Officer