Passion for rural health

The Land Rural Medical Scholarship finalists revealed

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The Land Rural Medical Scholarship has been awarded to two student doctors who share a passion for regional health and well being.

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Simon Whelan is looking forward to reconnecting with regional communities as a recipient of The Land scholarship.

Simon Whelan is looking forward to reconnecting with regional communities as a recipient of The Land scholarship.

Two young future doctors, passionate about improving rural health, have been awarded The Land Rural Medical Scholarship for 2020.

The winners are second year medical students Simon Whelan, University of Notre Dame at Sydney, and Laura Beaumont, Western Sydney University.

Both have country connections, with Mr Whelan off a fourth generation rice growing property near Griffith and Ms Beaumont from the Hunter Valley town of Paterson.

The scholarship's administrator, Alicia Hargreaves of the Gundagai based Rural Doctors Association of NSW, said it was fabulous to see the enthusiasm, and the quality of the applicants.

"They are passionate and they have the lived experience of inequities that rural and regional residents deal with when it comes to their medical care," she said.

Linking these winners with rural doctor mentors that can guide them on their path to becoming a rural practitioner is a key part of the scholarship.

Warialda GPs Di Coote and Clem Gordon are two such mentors who bring with them three decades of experience looking after people from birth to death.

Together they served the district while raising their own family and are regarded today as icons in their community, inspiring 11 students from the local school to study medicine, in the vague hope that some of them might return to the bush to help out with a heavy workload.

Scholarship winner Laura Beaumont, a second-year medical student, says there is a cultural shift among her cohort with more keen to work in the regions.

Scholarship winner Laura Beaumont, a second-year medical student, says there is a cultural shift among her cohort with more keen to work in the regions.

Dr Coote suggested a way to inspire rural generalism in new health recruits was to have them stay in the regions for longer than just a couple of weeks. Her most successful mentors came for six months and learned to love it.

Scholarship winner Ms Beaumont says there is a shift taking place in the culture of medical schools, with regional programs oversubscribed this year.

More young people are shunning the city for a lifestyle in the country. Covid has only helped to promote that idea.

But Dr Coote warns the workload in rural areas is intense. There is plenty of demand and few to supply the service, with a morbid increase in patient anxiety and obesity in the 30 years that she and her husband have been working from Warialda. They do hours in their surgery and in the local hospital.

That heavy responsibility, with the honour of becoming a key community component, is something both scholarship winners are keen to pursue.

Rural doctors need to be able to offer everything including mental health counselling and palliative care. Rural generalism gives these doctors the chance to go out and use their skills - Alicia Hargreaves

"It is meaningful to have these experiences," said Mr Whelan, recalling those with his own mother when she was being treated for kidney cancer many years ago. She has since made a full recovery, but the tyranny of distance in getting treatment in Sydney took its toll.

For Ms Beaumont, an experience giving CPR to a heart attack victim from her own small town imprinted on her the lack of health services in some places, with a 25 minute wait for an ambulance that came too late to save the man - someone who might have had his health issues diagnosed earlier had there been a local GP.

The life of a rural GP is varied and that in itself is an attraction for the right young doctor.

"There are many services required by patients in rural towns and this gives GPs the opportunity to upskill to meet the needs of their community," reminded Ms Hargreaves.

"Rural doctors need to be able to offer everything including mental health counselling and palliative care. Rural generalism gives these doctors the chance to go out and use their skills in areas like anaesthetics, obstetrics and surgery. Just because you live in a rural area doesn't mean it's dull and boring."

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