College of Medicine and Dentistry News & Stories Research and a medical education adventure

Research and a medical education adventure

Wed, 5 Feb 2020

Tropical North Queensland is proving the perfect launch pad for fifth-year medical student Visai Muruganandah to pursue both his passions of medicine and research.

Growing up in Melbourne, Visai always had an interest in tropical medicine and diseases but didn’t know what career path to follow.

“I wasn’t sure whether to go down a medical research career or a more clinical career. At the time I thought medicine offered the best options.”

Taking advantage of a unique opportunity available to medical students who have completed three years of study, Visai spent 2018 completing a one-year Bachelor of Medical Science degree at JCU Cairns and then returned to his medical studies in 2019.

“I did a laboratory-based honours project looking at new vaccines for tuberculosis,’’ he said.

“I think that year really provided me with the best opportunity to concurrently train and realise my research interest as well.

“It has opened a bunch of doors for me to continue to work with that particular research lab here, while I am studying medicine.’’

Visai’s current research involves discovering new antibiotics.

“There is a big problem with antibiotic resistant infections,’’ he said.

“We are located in a unique position where we have access to the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rainforests. There are lots of compounds and medicinal properties of plants that we can discover and test in our laboratory.’’

While JCU is kicking Visai’s research goals, it is also ticking his medical career boxes.

Visai spent the first three years of his medical degree in Townsville but from there students have the opportunity to be based in Cairns for the final three years – which predominantly involves clinical placements.

Having made connections in Cairns during his research year, Visai elected to spend the remainder of his degree at JCU’s Cairns campus.

But all Cairns and Townsville students share the same experiences.

In fourth-year, students undertake five placement rotations; rural, community health, public hospital, private hospital and clinical intensive.

“My favourite rotation would have to be rural.  I spent six weeks down at the Ayr Hospital.’’

Here Visai worked closely with a supportive team of doctors who have special interests and skills ranging from medicine to general surgery to working in ED, obstetrics and anaesthetics.

“Often I would go see a patient on my own, take their history and report back to the doctor. We would talk about the case and discuss what we thought was going on and we would go back and see the patient.

“So it was a really unique experience to have that one-on-one teaching.’’

And there was one moment from his Ayr placement that Visai won’t easily forget – witnessing his first delivery of a baby.

“There was an obstetrics trained doctor, a midwife, a midwifery student and the four of us were there with the mother and her partner.

“It was a really nice experience to be a part of. ‘’

And thanks to the Lynn Kratcha Memorial Rural Bursary for JCU medical students, in second-year Visai got an international insight into medicine for his rural placement.

He spent four weeks in Tennessee in the United States supported by the Lincoln Memorial University, which has close exchange ties with JCU.

“It was really nice to see how a different health system worked,’’ he said.

“Particularly in America where it is mainly a privatized system and you have to deal with a lot of insurance company issues. While the health issues were similar you saw this large discrepancy between the population group that had premium health care coverage verses the population that didn’t.’’

These real life placement experiences are priceless for students.

“I think it would be biggest advantage of coming to JCU, especially with our rural placements and being based in a regional centre. You get to do much more than other medical students around the country get to do.  You play a larger role in helping to manage patients and being part of the team environment that is required to take care of patients.

“So definitely, I feel we are very well prepared go onto the next stage of our lives which is becoming a doctor.’’

Looking ahead to fifth-year in 2020, Visai will undertake six placement blocks; medicine, surgery, general practice, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynaecology and paediatrics.

One placement that is sure to bring some unique experiences is his obstetrics and gynaecology rotation.

“I have been really lucky to get a spot to do my obstetric rotation in Fiji, so that is something to look forward to. It will be an excellent experience.’’

With two years to go, Visai is yet to explore all specialties of medicine but one path is already standing out.

“I definitely find that I like going on ward rounds and consulting with patients so possibly medicine or general practice I think is something I would be more inclined to pursue in the future.”

In the long term, Visai can see himself staying in the north.

“I would be very happy to stay here in Cairns,’’ he said.

“I like the varied work that come with working regional. I can see myself doing some outreach work as well in rural and remote communities.”

“In terms of career I see myself working clinically but also doing a bit of research and I really enjoy teaching. So if I end up doing a mixture of those things that would be ideal.’’