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Written By

Andrew Cramb


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

23 November 2021

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New Club RHINO President shares her passion for rural medicine

Rural Health in the Northern Outback – better known as Club RHINO – is a group of JCU and CQU students who are passionate about improving the health of our regional, rural, and remote communities. The club harnesses and grows students’ passion through fun and educational activities like road trips, social events, and skills-building nights.

Recently, we caught up with RHINO’s president for 2022, third-year JCU Medicine student, Hayley Skinner. She shared some of the experiences that led her to rural medicine, the plans for RHINO in 2022, and what’s to love about rural communities like her hometown of Julatten in Far North Queensland.

So Hayley, why did you choose to study medicine?

I started working at an aged care facility when I was 14, first as a kitchenhand then as an assistant nurse. I loved helping people and brightening up their days a little bit with a chat. My mum has also massively influenced my medicine journey. She’s a rural GP and I remember helping out at the practice as a kid and seeing the difference she was making to patients and the community.

Club RHINO committee members with Prof Tarun Sen Gupta
Hayley and Eric on their Lynn Kratcha Bursary Placement
Left: RHINO Club Committee members with JCU Professor of Health Professional Education Tarun Sen Gupta. Right: Hayley on placement in Weipa with fellow JCU medical student Eric Smith.

What’s influenced your passion for rural health?

One of my friends tragically passed away at the Laura Rodeo in 2015. There isn’t a hospital in Laura and there was no ambulance nearby, so she didn’t get any advanced life support until three hours later when the rescue chopper finally arrived. Unfortunately, this is the reality of rural medicine. I remember how her death shattered the entire community. The situation made me realise there is such a desperate need for doctors in rural areas. I think about Holly a lot. She has definitely made a big impact on me.

So that experience has shaped the pathway in medicine you’re planning on taking?

Yes, definitely. For me, it’s your classic ‘I want to be a rural generalist’. I am not entirely sure what I want my special skills to be in, I'm currently thinking general surgery. I was up in Weipa on placement, and they were saying how when they have a case of appendicitis, they have to send them to Cairns. This is just one example of the benefit of having a rural generalist with skills in surgery.

How did the opportunity to become RHINO President in 2022 come about?

Last year, I was the Townsville medicine representative for RHINO. I got involved in lots of events and helped organise things. I was lucky to be able to work closely with the committee and we formed a really good relationship, so I decided to put my hand up for President. I was grateful and humbled to be selected and I am excited about the opportunity.

Can you reveal some of the plans for Club RHINO in 2022?

We've got big plans for next year already! We’re hoping to get more allied health involved in RHINO. I think this will be a great way for students to get a broader understanding of the healthcare system and to meet people and create new networks. We’re also looking to do more events on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and cultural awareness. We're talking about maybe having a cooking class or a guest speaker night to learn about traditional healing. Of course, we are also planning on hosting our other massively successful events again, such as the RHINO gala ball.

What factors do you think contribute to an interest among students and junior doctors to go rural?

I think that JCU does such a great job of showing how amazing rural medicine is. Events like the RHINO Gala Ball add to that by showing the beauty of rural Queensland and hopefully helps students fall in love with the rural lifestyle as well. I’m probably very biased because I love the outback, but I think once you see how beautiful it is and the type of people you encounter it's hard to say no to.

You’ve had the chance to do a few rural placements so far, what’s been some of your key takeaways?

I learned the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, both in the hospital and in your downtime. If you have a free moment, explore the town you’re in because you may be surprised! Rural communities often have more to offer than what meets the eye. Even if they’re limited in terms of facilities, they often make up for in community spirit!

Hayley riding a horse in a camp drafting competition
Hayley on placement at the Cape
Left: Hayley participating in a camp drafting competition. Right: Hayley at the northern most point of the Australian mainland.

Tell us more about your most recent placement, as part of the Lynn Kratcha Memorial Rural Bursary. How did that come up as an opportunity?

I applied for the Lynn Kratcha Memorial Rural Bursary because I knew it would provide a unique opportunity to increase my awareness and appreciation of different cultures, ways of living and health care settings. I felt that this experience will ultimately help me deliver the most holistic and inclusive care possible, which will be beneficial in my future work (hopefully) as a rural generalist. I was also super excited for the adventure that the bursary boasted that was getting to explore a new and unique location.

There are only a handful of bursary recipients each year. How did you feel about being accepted?  

I remember being so shocked when I was accepted. I had to look back to my friends and family in the audience at the presentation to make sure I had heard my name being called! I decided to apply for the bursary back in my first year of medicine, and having this dream come to fruition was such an amazing feeling.

From your experiences in Weipa, what advice do you have for students preparing to go on placement?  

Be proactive – have a plan of what you would like to learn, the skills you’d like to hone, where you would like to go. Remember the idea of your rural placement is to do more than just experience the medicine, take the opportunity to get involved in the community and do some exploring. If you’re headed up the Cape, please don’t swim in the rivers or ocean. It’s crocodile country!

What kind of things do you like to get up to when you're not studying or working?

I love riding horses and a good camp draft, and I like drinking tea!

What is it about your hometown of Julatten that you love most?

Julatten is so serene and untouched. Our house is literally surrounded by rainforest and you wake up in the morning and hear the birds. We can take the horses on the trails and just ride for hours. It’s so green and luscious and it’s just home.

Any tips for students to explore the area if they’re on placement in Mareeba or the Atherton Tablelands?

Go to Mossman Gorge and Emerald Creek Falls. They are absolutely beautiful places. There are lots of special spots in the area, you just have to talk to the locals and they'll tell you where they are! Mount Molloy has your classic rural town pub where you can get a beer and a parmy and have a good chat with locals. It’s always good fun!

Cattle paddock at Hayley's family farm in Julatten.

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