Featured News JCU’s plan to bolster Mackay region health workforce

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Thu, 2 Dec 2021

JCU’s plan to bolster Mackay region health workforce

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Newly announced Mackay Clinical School head Dr Elissa Hatherly said she was working with JCU Dean of Medicine and Dentistry, Professor Sarah Larkins, on expanding course offerings to medical students in years one, two and three in Mackay.

James Cook University is planning to grow its student numbers at its Mackay Clinical School in order to meet the demands of the wider region.

Newly announced Clinical School head Dr Elissa Hatherly said she was working with JCU Dean of Medicine and Dentistry, Professor Sarah Larkins, on expanding course offerings to medical students in years one, two and three in Mackay.

“Our plan for expansion is supported by our success to date in delivering a medical workforce for our region but is dependent on the government increasing the number of Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) in medical schools,” Dr Hatherly said.

“It is critical that such an investment directly benefits our region in the supply of a medical and GP workforce rather than expanding the supply of graduates pursuing careers in metropolitan areas.”

The Clinical School currently has fifth and sixth year medical students studying full-time and has fourth year medical students on placement in the area.

“The opportunity to help grow our own medical workforce is really appealing because if we can get our local young people involved in health, whether it's medicine or pharmacy or something else, they’ll hopefully stay in the region and help to care for our community,” Dr Hatherly said.

“The whole district, from the hinterland to the Whitsundays, needs more health professionals to support our community because we don't have the access to health care that our counterparts in the South-East corner have.

“For instance, we offered first year JCU Pharmacy from this year, and that will be a program that we continue to expand. We also have dentistry students placed here and in Proserpine.”

A GP by trade, Dr Hatherly brings 20 years of experience to the role, including work with BreastScreen Queensland and Mackay Base Hospital’s Family Planning Clinic.

She replaces long-serving and highly respected Clinical School head Dr Mick Wohlfahrt, who was in the role for nine years.

“I love Mackay. I arrived here as a medical intern and have never left,” Dr Hatherly said.

“We shouldn't be experiencing long wait times to see GPs or specialists, and certainly our indigenous peoples need more health care than our community is currently able to offer them. Mackay is getting bigger, so providing that local education will definitely help to shore up our medical workforce moving forward.”

JCU’s campus in Mackay is one of the university's clinical training sites, with two campus locations providing students with extensive hands-on learning and clinical experience at both the Mater and Mackay Base Hospitals.

“We look forward to increasing our efforts to train pharmacists and doctors for the Mackay region, together with Mackay HHS, the NQ Primary Health Network and our community partners,” said JCU Deputy Vice Chancellor, Tropical Health and Medicine Professor Richard Murray.

“We know that our approach of ‘from, in, with and for’ rural and regional communities delivers outcomes in terms of doctors for North Queensland.”

JCU is the only university delivering both undergraduate medical training and general practice training.

This integrated training model is being used to develop a skilled, fit-for-purpose health workforce to address the shortage of doctors in regional, rural, and remote communities.

Medicine students on placement experience general practice in towns like Moranbah, Collinsville, Bowen, Proserpine and Sarina.

“Depending on what's available in that location, they might spend time with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Service or with the local hospital and hopefully integrate into the local community as well,” Dr Hatherly said.

“It's not just about getting medical experience, it's about getting a good feel for what life is like as a rural or regional practitioner. The students love being in the small centres because they have the opportunity to be hands on.”

Dr Hatherly serves on the board of the Mackay Hospital and Health Service and Northern Australian Primary Health Ltd. She has previously coordinated rural placements in the Mackay region for fourth year JCU Medicine students and supervised GP registrars doing their extended skills training at the hospital’s weekly Family Planning Clinic.


Media enquiries: michael.serenc@jcu.edu.au