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Written By

Andrew Cramb


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

10 August 2021

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Hands-on training, unique tropical medicine cases, and memories that will last a lifetime. This is what a JCU Medicine rural placement in Far North Queensland is all about.

Thursday Island is as far removed as you can get from second-year Medicine Student Akruthi Balaji’s hometown of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada. She immersed herself in the four-week placement experience and has grown in her clinical skills and understanding of the health care needs of rural communities. We recently asked Akruthi about her placement experience and some of the many highlights and learnings…

What was some of practical work you did on placement?

I spent time in hospital, in GP practice, and in a community clinic setting, so I got to see and do a lot! I took patient histories, assisted with physical examinations, and learned cannulation and venipuncture. I also observed and assisted in plastering, wound debriding, and anesthetics in theatre. I got to see a variety of tropical medicine cases, which are quite unique.

What did you learn from the experience and what have been some of your key reflections?

A big thing I saw was how being remote can significantly affect healthcare access. In class at JCU, we learn a lot about the challenges of living rurally and remotely, but it really hits home when you see it in person. From Thursday Island, the next hospital to refer to is in Cairns, which is a two-hour flight away. Because of this, the staff knew how to think on their feet and be resourceful with what is available on the island. It's taught me the immense importance of knowing your local area and being able to do things with limited resources. It’s also really opened my eyes to how many options there are in medicine. I’m not set on a path yet, but I did just get more inspired and passionate about wanting to do medicine.

At Thursday Island Hospital
Visiting Friday Island
Left: Akruthi and a colleague at Thursday Island Hospital. Right: Akruthi visiting Friday Island

Did COVID-19 affect the type of work you were doing?

As a student, I mostly observed and helped with small procedures, which was not significantly affected by COVID-19. There was extra PPE we needed to wear for patients with respiratory symptoms, and other precautions such as COVID-swabbing these patients before starting other investigations. I did see a lot of counselling for patients to encourage them to get the vaccine, and I myself had certain vaccination requirements as a student.

What did you get up to in your downtime?

I got to see a lot in and around Thursday Island! We went on a boat trip to the inner islands, went to Friday Island, saw the sunset from Green Fort Hill, and visited the Gab Titui Cultural Centre. I also visited the Kazu pearl farm, went to Punsand Bay via helicopter, and played social soccer with community members every week. I was also lucky enough to go exactly in time for the Coming of the Light ceremony, which is a unique and culturally immersive experience!

Did you enjoy it, and would you recommend it to others?

Yes!! I had an amazing experience and would strongly recommend it to anyone! It was a great clinical experience, but also a fantastic rural and community-based experience. You get to see things from a very different perspective when you're rural, which is quite cool.

How would you describe the sense of community up there?

I loved how welcoming everyone was. It's quite daunting as a student to go into a community where you don't know anyone. It was lovely that everyone, in and out of hospital, was welcoming to students and happy to take us places. This really made for a great experience and allowed us to get a better feel for the community.

I didn't feel like I was isolated to only meeting healthcare staff. I met all sorts of people, from healthcare workers to construction workers, and even some crayfish divers. Anywhere I went, people were happy to chat and asked me questions about myself, and shared stories too.

What's your advice for a student preparing to go on placement?

Take the time to learn about the community you’re going to, such as their culture and social activities. It really adds so much to the placement experience if you get yourself involved, not only in the hospital but also in the community.

Thank you Akruthi for sharing your rural placement experience! JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry loves sharing the stories and experiences of our staff and students. If you would like to share your story, get in touch with us.

Watching the sunset at Green Hill Fort, Thursday Island (Image supplied by Akruthi Balaji)

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