James Cook University (JCU) is Australia’s leading tropical research university. Established in 2000, JCU places a special emphasis on rural, remote and tropical medicine and the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. JCU is committed to health and social equity, community engagement and excellence in northern medical education and research.

The Medical Course

The Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at JCU is a comprehensive, six-year undergraduate program that prepares graduates for supervised clinical practice as an intern anywhere in Australia or New Zealand. The curriculum has a solid foundation in biomedical, incorporates early clinical experience, has exceptional opportunities for hands-on development of clinical skills and is an excellent preparation for postgraduate vocational training in any medical discipline. Graduates are already highly regarded by employers and professional Colleges.

The course combines integrated instruction in biomedical sciences, professional practice and clinical medicine and incorporates the best aspects of student-centered problem-based learning combined with systematic instruction. Clinical experience, particularly in the rural and remote context, commences at an early stage and science remains integrated across later years. Small-group learning and close relationships with academic staff and clinical preceptors are features of the program.

The Dental Course

The Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) is a five-year undergraduate program which encompasses all areas of dental practice, with a special focus on tropical, rural and Indigenous dentistry.The course integrates basic sciences and preventive oral health strategies. There is exposure to clinical practice from first year, where students undertake two weeks of observation in private dental practices. From second year there is an increasing proportion of the curriculum dedicated to the acquisition of clinical skills. In final year students will undertake clinical placements in Queensland Health dental facilities throughout northern Queensland.

The Sites

The main campus is located in the tropical city of Townsville. Clinical experience is gained across northern Queensland and elsewhere. In addition to Townsville, Clinical centres are located in Cairns, Mackay, Atherton and Darwin. The network of JCU clinical academics and teaching infrastructure in rural and remote locations includes Mount Isa, Sarina and Proserpine. JCU applies the latest educational techniques and technologies while maintaining a community-oriented practical approach to health professional education.

Medicine and Dentistry is committed to the advancement of medical education and research relevant to the communities of northern Australia. It aims to offer educational and research excellence, relevant to the communities of northern Australia and countries in the region.


Medicine and Dentistry at JCU was not an overnight development. Northern Queensland has a long and distinguished history of health research and education - going back to the establishment of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine (AITM) in 1910. It was the first Australian institute dedicated solely to medical research and predated the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute by six years. Led by Dr Anton Breinl (and later Sir Raphael Cilento among others) the AITM contributed important early work in tropical medicine and biochemistry and graduated its first Diploma of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene class in 1926. Townsville was later the base for management of malaria control for the allied forces during the Second World War.

The University College of Townsville was founded in 1961 and later was established as the James Cook University in 1970. There had been substantial community pressure to establish a northern Queensland medical school through the 1960s and this featured in the original plan for the JCU campus.

At that time of its foundation, JCU already possessed much of the infrastructure required for health sciences education, including tropical medicine, public health, veterinary and biomedical sciences and social sciences. The landmark Commonwealth Karmel Report in 1973 formally recommended a medical school for northern Queensland but funding and political commitment did not materialise. Undeterred, communities of north continued their lobbying efforts.

A program for postgraduate training in General Practice began in north Queensland in 1974 and became one of the stronger and more integrated regional GP training programs in Australia. A significant growth of health-related programs followed: the AITM was re-established as the Anton Breinl Centre on its historical site in 1987, Nursing Science in 1989 and Public Health and Tropical Medicine in 1992.

JCU and the University of Queensland jointly established the North Queensland Clinical School in 1993 with support from the Queensland Government. The Clinical School provided training for approximately 30 medical students from the University of Queensland in their final two years and brought several senior medical academics and specialists to Townsville and Cairns. Academic posts were established in medicine, surgery, child health, obstetrics and gynaecology, general practice and rural health, paediatrics and psychiatry.

In 1997 the Faculty of Health, Life and Molecular Sciences was formed in recognition of the strength of the health sciences at JCU, providing an academic and administrative umbrella to coordinate the expansion of health and related science programs. By 1999, the Faculty offered postgraduate and undergraduate courses in tropical medicine, public health, occupational therapy, pharmacy, nursing, biomedical science, sports and exercise science and medical laboratory science. World class research was being conducted by JCU academics, particularly in the fields of public health and tropical medicine, biomedical science and molecular biology.

The year 1997 also saw a re-kindled push for a medical school with a joint proposal from JCU and the Queensland Health. Professor Robert Porter, a distinguished medical educator and researcher, was appointed as Planning Dean in March 1998 to lead the development phase and see the School through Australian Medical Council (AMC) accreditation. As the first Australian medical school for 25 years, the JCU program was the first to be required to gain AMC accreditation prior to commencement.

In 1999, Professor Richard Hays was appointed as Foundation Dean to develop and implement an innovative curriculum that had a special focus on rural and remote medicine, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, and tropical medicine. The Australian Medical Council accredited the School in 1999 and the first cohort of 64 students was recruited to commence in February 2000.

In 2001, the staff and resources of the North Queensland Clinical School were incorporated into the Medicine at JCU. In 2001 the program's rural and remote training component was enhanced by the incorporation into JCU of the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health, which offers specialist expertise and facilities for coordination of rural experience opportunities.

The historical first group of JCU medical graduates completed their training in 2005. The number of intern positions in northern Queensland hospitals doubled with the majority of positions filled by JCU graduates. Nine out of 10 of the north Queensland origin students stayed in Queensland, along with half of the Brisbane-origin and interstate students.

In 2008, the Medicine incorporated Dentistry as well as Medicine. Approximately one third of commencing dentistry students came from northern Queensland, while another third were from rural Queensland and four students were from remote locations. The JCU Dental section is one of only three in Australia located outside a capital city, and is the only one outside the metropolitan areas of south-east Queensland. JCU’s establishment was funded by a grant of $52.5m from the Federal Government and includes a new purpose-built building on the Smithfield Campus of the University with state-of-the-art facilities.