Prison healthcare elective, Alexander Maconocie Centre, ACT

During my ICCH placement in third year, I thoroughly enjoyed all my community health placements. Thus I wanted to get more exposure in community based primary healthcare. Even though prison healthcare is not exactly “community based” but it is something I have never had any exposure to and was really curious about. Thus I applied for the local prison here in Canberra called Alexander Maconocie Centre (AMC).

The AMC has its own healthcare facility called the Hume Health Center which is run by general practitioners, nurses, a dental unit as well as the forensic mental health unit (FMHU). In the nursing team there are two Population Health nurses and one Drug and Alcohol (D&A) nurse. The Pop Health nurses mainly looked after the detainees’ vaccination and BBV status as well as their chronic disease management.  

My supervisor, the clinical director of Justice Health, Dr Katerina Lagios, made sure that I got adequate exposure to both the medical side of things as well as the nursing. I was also given the opportunity to visit Bimberri, the Youth Justice Centre.

Throughout my placement I was given the freedom to choose who I wanted to shadow for the day given that they were okay with it. This really helped me a lot, as within my first two weeks I already got the chance to see the different units operate and in my last two weeks I mostly spent time with the teams whose work I personally was interested in such as the D&A staff and the GPs. The entire medical team at Hume was very encouraging and facilitated my learning a lot.

Towards the end of my electives I was not only actively assessing (under supervision) applicants if they are eligible to be on the opioid replacement treatment as well as assessing the fitness of the patients who are already on ORT. Another great learning opportunity for me was watching the GPs and nurses not only fulfilling their professional obligations to their patients, but also going the extra length to make them feel comfortable and like a normal human being for the 15 minutes that they are out of their cell blocks.    

At no point did I feel unsafe during my placement. There are always guards around but most of the detainees are very respectful of the medical staff. They recognize and appreciate the fact that the medical team is there to help them. And all the detainees that I have met during my placement were more than happy to have medical student be present at the consult which quite often involved the disclosure of some really personal matters.

All in all, my placement at the Alexander Maconocie Centre was a really good learning opportunity and it also helped me to humanize the marginalized people in our society.