Outback adventures inspire a love for rural health

Grassy Hill Lookout, Cooktown

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Written By

Andrew Cramb


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

11 August 2023

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JCU is nationally recognised for its contribution to the rural health workforce. Our academics and clinical supervisors play a crucial role in honing our students’ interest in rural health, but there are also plenty of opportunities for students to discover this passion for themselves.

Rural Health in the Northern Outback, better known as Club RHINO, brings together students who share an interest in exploring the clinical opportunities and beautiful landscapes of our rural and remote communities. Founded in 2000, the year JCU’s medical school commenced, Club RHINO has provided countless JCU health students with insights into the rural health workforce, the culture and communities of North Queensland, as well as plenty of adventures and road trips along the way.

In 2023, fourth-year JCU medical student, Finley Prentis, took the reins as President of the club. We caught up with him recently to hear about all the happenings for the year so far, what’s to come, and why he’s so passionate about going rural.

Finley and other Club Rhino members making the club rhino sign with their hands.
Finley and a fellow Club RHINO member making the club rhino sign with their hands.
Club RHINO members, including Finley (pictured middle and right), making the club's signature gesture. (Supplied by Finley Prentis.)

Congratulations on the appointment of President. You’re halfway through the year already, how has the role been going so far?

The year so far has been great for strengthening our legacy of active student engagement. We’ve found that having varied and fun activities throughout the year where students are getting hands on is one of the best ways to meet the members and help to stir up passion for a health career in the bush.

Our annual Gala Ball has always been a hit, but some of my favourites have been our Marathon in May program and the Paint & Yarn event at the end of last year. This year the team have been working to improve our commitment to servicing our allied health cohorts, which will hopefully expand allied health students’ opportunities in the process.

Finley and a fellow student stand outside of the Weipa Hospital.
Finley and a fellow student with their certificates of awesomeness.
Left: Finley and a fellow student while on placement at the Weipa Hospital. Right: Finley and a fellow student receiving unofficial "Certificates of Awesomeness". (Supplied by Finley Prentis.)

What are some of the activities and initiatives you’ve done so far, and what’s planned for the rest of the year?

There’s been some great work underway from the team on our mentorship program — special thanks to Brodie and Hayley — that aims to improve interest in rural health careers for both school students and university cohorts. We’ve also been utilising merchandising to improve our awareness and engage more students, as we’ve seen great uptake in members with this strategy before.

This year we’ve organised clinical polos, some very loudly RHINO-branded socks for placement (or otherwise!) and running shorts for Marathon in May. Also, we are working towards further collaboration with the rest of Queensland’s Rural Health Student Clubs — Bushfire, Hope4Health and TROHPIQ. We’ll be looking to build on this relationship and hopefully see many more fun projects come out of it in years to come.

What does #MakingRuralHealthMatter mean to you?

“Making rural health matter” to me means that there is a clear area of need for good healthcare in the bush that deserves more attention, from students to services and the government. On top of this, the practitioners who can provide holistic healthcare for their patients away from the advanced infrastructure of metro tertiary centres no doubt have a wealth of knowledge on best practice that can inform the future of medicine in this country.

Finley holding up a long, white fish while standing on a rocky jetty.
Finley and fellow students gather around the sign at the tip of Australia.
Left: Finley enjoying some classic FNQ fishing in his free time. Right: Finley and friends gathered at the Tip of Australia. (Supplied by Finley Prentis.)

What inspired you to study Medicine?

I’d always been into the problem solving and science side of things when I was growing up, and like a lot of people my age my love of science, public health and curiosity about the human body was shaped by the great Dr Karl. But most importantly, the practice of medicine appealed to me as a hands-on approach to tangibly improve the quality of life of people and populations.

At the end of the day, I want to gain the skills necessary to help others live better lives, regardless of setting or scenario. I’d also love to see and learn about more of the world and the outback, and organisations like the Royal Flying Doctors and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) that are doing incredible work in underserviced areas all over the world really excite me about my professional career.

Why did you choose JCU?

JCU appealed to me as a university that encouraged students to be adventurous and to make the most of the beautiful part of the world that we are based in.

I was born and raised in Brisbane, although after three and a half years North Queensland is really starting to feel like home to me. Mum’s family are from Mareeba and around the tablelands, so I’ve grown up knowing the area and have had plenty of influence from that side of things. A good family friend of ours and former rural GP from the area boosted my motivation to move north, and he had a lot of good things to say about his experience with JCU graduates.  All round it just seemed like I’d be having the most fun and learning from the best teachers here in the Tropics, and I think I made the right call.

Now that I'm here, I get to spend most of my days either at the beach or running in the rainforest. All this coupled with some great placement experiences in Cooktown, Cairns and Weipa has been pivotal in where I see myself after graduation. I’ve also done some volunteering in mental health research, which has shaped my passions and is something I want to keep working on down the track.

I’m having such a good time that I don’t think I could look back now!

If you're passionate about making a positive impact in underserved communities, be sure to check out Club Rhino and follow along on their adventures.

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