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Written By

Andrew Cramb


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

31 January 2023

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Academic Lead prepares for new JCU Medicine Cairns cohort

North Queensland clinician and JCU Associate Professor, Dr Julie Mudd, takes the reins as Academic Lead for MBBS1-3 for the expanded JCU Medicine Program in Cairns.

First-year JCU Medicine students will soon walk onto campus in Cairns as the inaugural cohort of foundation years’ Medicine in Cairns.

After receiving additional Commonwealth Support Places (CSPs) last year, JCU will welcome new students in the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) in Cairns from Semester 1 2023. Leading the preparations is the newly appointed Academic Lead, Foundation Medical Studies in Cairns, Associate Professor Julie Mudd.

A/Prof Mudd is a Public Health Physician and Associate Professor at JCU. She’s been working with JCU since 2007 in Townsville, before moving to Cairns at the end of 2021. While the move meant A/Prof Mudd had to switch from teaching third year to sixth year, it didn’t take long for the Foundations years Academic Lead opportunity to arise, a role that seems tailor-made for A/Prof Mudd.

Becoming a North Queenslander

Despite her Sydney upbringing, A/Prof Mudd has been living in North Queensland long enough to call herself a local. After moving to Cairns as a final year medical student at the University of Queensland in 2000, she stayed in the North for her internship in Cairns, completing her training there and in Townsville, along with some time spent out in Mount Isa and other rural towns.

“Growing up in a large city, you know there is always access to care if you get sick,” A/Prof Mudd says. “As I’ve gone more and more rural, I’ve experienced firsthand the difference in access to care. I’ve seen the negative side, but I've seen the impact of JCU in contributing more doctors to where they’re needed.

“By attracting specialists, and having more well-rounded and complete training systems, you start to get doctors back who may have left the region after graduating or training. It’s fantastic for us because they understand the needs, they know the training systems, and they bring new skills and experience to the region,” A/Prof Mudd says.

On top of the training opportunities, A/Prof and her family have made the most of their Tropical backyard, which has set the scene for plenty of adventures.

“Our favourite thing to do is walking in the world heritage rainforest and trying to photograph the unique wildlife but the Great Barrier Reef is also spectacular and there are many great safe swimming options available all year round. I have a particular love of waterfalls which makes wet season really exciting!” A/Prof Mudd says.

Familiar with first-cohorts

A/Prof Mudd will be able to relate to our new Cairns first-years, as a first-cohort member of UQ’s postgraduate medical program (1997-2000). At that point, there was a North Queensland Clinical school which preceded the JCU medical school.

“It was at a time when JCU was just starting and didn’t yet have senior clinical students in North Queensland hospitals. We were coming up to fill the gaps,” A/Prof Mudd says.

“Medical students serve a really important purpose in rural hospitals. Obviously, they’re there to learn, but they also become part of the workforce, contributing alongside the medical and allied health teams.”

Being part of the Transition Group was appealing to A/Prof Mudd because she knew she was filling a need while receiving an unbeatable training experience.

“We came up to North Queensland because my husband, who’s also a doctor, and I both felt strongly that the need for doctors was outside of cities.

“Even when I was training in Brisbane, I would always pick the smallest hospital or most rural hospital, wherever I had a choice, because I realised very early on that was where I got the best training experiences,” A/Prof Mudd says.

A/Prof Mudd’s motivation in seeking out new training experience in regional settings continued into her specialist medical training in public health medicine, and she encourages other doctors to do the same.

“I did all my specialty training in North Queensland. For medical graduates now, we want to give them plenty of opportunities to stay here for specialty training," A/Prof Julie Mudd.

So there's a lot of work happening in that space and we're getting increasing numbers of specialties where you can train the whole way through to specialist without having to go to a capital city,” A/Prof Mudd says.

JCU alumnus and junior doctors training at Cairns Hospital.

Training students; working with graduates

A/Prof Mudd was working in Townsville until 2021 when a clinical opportunity at Cairns Hospital came up. With no medicine foundation years in Cairns at the time, A/Prof Mudd changed her JCU role to coordinating clinical elective placements for the final-year students across all sites. Through this role, she regularly sees one of the key strengths of the JCU medicine program in action: the impact students are making on placement in rural communities.

“Our students are spread out across the state and beyond,” Julie says. “Because they might be the only student there, or as one of two or three, they get a lot of opportunities to practice their skills. There’s no wall of med students standing behind the doctor, our students, particularly our sixth-years are integrated members of the team.”

One of the highlights of her JCU job, A/Prof Mudd says is getting supervisor reports that identify JCU med students as functioning at an intern or even resident level.

“It’s incredibly gratifying. I am very proud when I see our sixth-year students functioning well alongside the residents and interns. In my clinical role, I work alongside colleagues who are JCU graduates and they’re a testament to the quality of the teaching,” A/Prof Mudd says.

What a Cairns cohort means for the local community

For A/Prof Mudd, bringing JCU Medicine’s foundation years to Cairns opens up plenty of opportunities.

“I think this is a wonderful thing,” she says. “It’s opening up the opportunity to go into medicine for a group of people who may have felt that it was not an option for them previously.”

Providing medical training opportunities closer to home was a key motivation for JCU’s medicine program when it launched in 2000. As the country’s first medical school outside a major metropolitan area, it opened up the possibility of medicine for communities across the North. The Cairns expansion extends this even further.

“There can be barriers to tertiary education up here that aren’t a factor in metropolitan areas. For many prospective students, attending university potentially means moving off Country, leaving family and support networks, or it might just not be financially viable,” A/Prof Mudd says.

As well as more tertiary opportunities for locals, A/Prof Mudd believes the expansion will provide a platform to show all that the Far North has to offer to those in the first-year cohort who are not from the region.

“We’re hoping many of our students who come here to study will choose to put down roots in the region. Being here for the full six years of the degree will give students a good length of time to develop a meaningful connection to the place and the people.

“It’s also my hope that the community will embrace these new students coming in,” A/Prof Mudd says.

Cairns Esplanade

The same high-quality education, with a Cairns twist.

A/Prof Mudd is ensuring that the foundational years of teaching will make the most of the clinical and research expertise residing at the JCU Nguma-bada campus in Smithfield, where the first years will be based.

“We've got great clinical teachers throughout Cairns and fantastic scientists here on campus who perhaps haven't had the opportunity to teach into the program and can now be brought into the JCU medicine fold. We’re bringing in more expertise and expanding the knowledge base. For students, it will mean access to new research and elective opportunities. I think it's good for everyone because brings more skills and experience into the JCU family,” A/Prof Mudd says.

As she settles into the new role, A/Prof Mudd has been reviewing the MBBS1 program to ensure that it will be tailored for the new Cairns cohort.

“I'm very keen to make sure that we have an equitable program here so it might be that there are some aspects that need to be changed slightly because of the difference in cohort size or because of the difference in location,” A/Prof Mudd says.

One of the ways the Cairns-based program will ensure an equitable and engaging learning experience will be through the involvement of the fourth-years in guiding and mentoring the first-year cohort.

“Being the first year, this cohort won’t have second and third-years around on campus to help model how things are done. Hopefully, the fourth-years will fill that gap in guiding first-years on study options and getting their heads around university studies.”

A/Prof Mudd sees the mentorship opportunities as a big learning opportunity, not only for the first-year cohort but for the clinical students who will be involved in mentoring and teaching.

“We’ll be drawing on the experiences of our later-year students, and in doing so, giving them experience in clinical teaching. That’s important for anyone pursuing a career in medicine because a lot of the structure of medicine involves teaching those who are coming up through the ranks behind you,” Julie says.

As part of a first cohort in a new program herself, A/Prof Mudd understands the potential for teething issues and assures new students that she and the clinical team will be hard at work in the months leading up to Week 1, Semester 1 2023.

“In summary, it’s the same program and the same curriculum. The only difference is that hopefully over time it will develop a distinctive Cairns flavour to our little cohort that will help to reflect the uniqueness of the region!”

The expansion of the JCU Medicine program is providing greater access to medical education and is a win for all of North Queensland. Based on the proven results of the program to date, the expansion will ultimately translate to more medical graduates taking up further training and medical careers in the region. You can find out more about the expansion and what it will mean for future doctors and communities of North Queensland.

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