Shannon Nott, Co-Chair of the National Rural Health Students’ Network, recently told Croakey readers about the first day of the National University Rural Health Conference, held in Alice Springs.
In his final report from the conference, he introduces us to various legends of rural and remote health, some essential reading, and a US proponent of physician assistants.
“Our second day in gorgeously sunny Alice Springs commenced with students breaking off into different interactive workshops, on a variety of topics. These included removing foreign bodies from the eye, engaging and working with children, GP career pathways, A Dying Shame featuring Malarndirri McCarthy’s film about Borroloola, and running a University rural health club.
The main plenary session kicked off with Dr Alyssa Vass, who is a Senior Health Educator for Aboriginal Resources and Development Services. She was an inspirational speaker, and just her way of speaking put us all immediately at ease. From anecdotal feedback, she was one of the highlights of the conference for many students.
The afternoon session contained personal experiences and stories from outback heroes who live, work and breathe all things rural health. We began with an address by Janie Dade Smith, an eminent Remote Area Nurse, and author of the book ‘Australia’s Rural and Remote Health: A Social Justice Perspective’ that we believe should be compulsory reading for all University students. Her down to earth perspective was valued by everyone in the room, and I’m sure we all hope to emulate some of her achievements one day.
Imelda Bergman is an Occupational Therapist who has worked all over Australia and the USA, and is currently a lecturer at the Uni of Newcastle – she is widely published on working with children with a disability, and is a very engaging speaker.
On day three, we woke to another magnificent day in Alice Springs, and students were treated to a taste of Indigenous health policy by Stephanie Bell, CEO of Congress here in Alice Springs. Stephanie specifically highlighted the history of various health policies from an Indigenous Australian’s perspective.
Delegates gained great insight from her speech, into the ways in which future health policy can be directed, and in particular how an integrated approach from a community, region and government perspective is needed to achieve effective and culturally appropriate health care. One delegate was particularly interested in her talk, commenting that he, through his studies, had never before gained that level of insight from an Indigenous health advocacy body such as Congress.
Of course a rural health conference would not be complete without mention of the RFDS, an iconic symbol of our far-reaching rural health service. Dr David Garne, an RFDS GP based in Broken Hill, gave students a real life scenario from his own experiences with the RFDS. He illustrated to delegates some of the complexities, and some of the great challenges that these heroes of the outback can face on a day to day basis.
Students sat there in awe as he recounted one particular rescue that posed some extra difficulties in logistics and forced some very tough decisions. This showcased the ingenuity of those who serve with the RFDS, and had us all wanting to be just like them. In rural and remote medicine, nothing is ever textbook! David portrayed excellently that despite the extra challenges, rural and remote health can be an extremely exciting and rewarding career path.
The speaking session of our final day concluded with 2 speakers who highlighted the way of the future in rural and remote health. Ruth Ballweg, a physician’s assistant and Associate Professor from the University of Washington, Seattle, who discussed with students the role that physician assistants can play within the Australian rural and remote context.
This talk brought up some interesting ideas and concepts which many students hadn’t yet heard first hand, as PAs are not yet widely utilised within our health system.
Following this we had Peter Carver, the newly appointed Executive Director of Health Workforce Australia. Peter talked about where we are at currently in terms of health workforce reform, with a particular emphasis on rural and remote health workforce. Although sounding like a dry topic, he gave us a valuable insight into how we as students can assist in driving policy from our University level, through the Rural Health Clubs and the Network. Peter emphasised that we need to move more towards competency based training, and the need for more guidelines to define each role within the healthcare team to assist this process.
The final part of the day, and our conference, was all about working together for the future of rural and remote health workforce to ensure its sustainability. This session was an open floor forum, aimed to promote discussion between our expert panel and the student delegates.
One important thing resonated throughout these suggestions – that appropriate support mechanisms were in place for rural and remote clinical training placements, from the student level right up to the most senior health practitioner. Delegates applauded the National Rural Health Student Network’s continued commitment to promote equity amongst all disciplines, in regards to access for scholarships and support.
This is an issue which has made a lot of ground in recent years, backed by the Federal Governments’ announcement of extra nursing and allied health scholarships, however we still have a way to go.
The conference could not have been capped off on a better note, with our formal dinner held at Ooraminna Homestead. This provided everyone with the ultimate Central Australian outback setting, as we had dinner under the stars, surrounded by fire bins and the bright red sand that is so typical of this region. All 350 delegates were treated to a hearty home cooked meal, and entertained brilliantly by the local band, In Tatters.
It is through conferences like these that the next generation of health professionals, are able to get together and network with one another. We all need to remember that today’s students will be our future leaders in rural and remote communities, and by supporting them and encouraging them to learn about and experience rural healthcare, we are fostering a more secure future for rural, remote and Indigenous healthcare.”
• Matt Cane (Co-Chair of NRHSN and 4th Year Pharmacy Student from UTas) and Jasmine Banner (Secretary of NRHSN, 6th Year Medical Student from Uni Adelaide) also contributed to this blog.