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Our first JCU rural placement

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Written By

Andrew Cramb

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

4 April 2022

Related Study Areas

Textbook learning put into General Practice

For our second-year medicine students, their first rural placement is a formative and often an eye-opening experience. These four weeks in rural and remote communities across Queensland offer an insight into what being a doctor is really about and can shape students’ future pathways in medicine.

Recently, we caught up with four of our students who were placed at Atherton Hospital and GP practices around the Tablelands. Azeez Kareem, Chloe Gane, Dennis Perez Castillo and Sarah Fahmy shared some of their placement highlights and what they’re taking away from the experience…

Did you have any expectations coming into your first placement in a regional area like Atherton? And were your expectations met?

Azeez: I wasn’t expecting everyone to be quite so friendly! Coming from a big city like Perth, the mentality there is generally to keep your head down and go about your own business. Here, everyone is so friendly and will say hello when you pass them on the street, which is very nice.

Chloe: I’d say the same. Before placement, one of the main things I was told about these kinds of towns was the sense of community and warm welcome you get. That has stood true for me! It’s felt like so much more than just a medical placement. It’s been an opportunity to dive deep into what living rurally is like. Literally, it feels like you’re welcomed into a big family, which has been really settling for me.

Sarah: My expectation coming into placement was that it would be a real-life application of what we've learned so far. It's one thing to have learned the content and sit exams, and another thing to see these conditions in front of you. The first time I saw a patient with one of the conditions we’ve learned about I was really moved. You actually see the symptoms and the impact, which makes the learning hit home.

Dennis: I didn’t have any preconceived notions; I just came with an open mind and was ready to do everything I could. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to do as much as I have in terms of the hands-on tasks.

MBBS2 Students at Dinner in the accommodation
MBBS2 Students exploring the region
Left: Sharing dinner at the student accommodation. Right: Enjoying some time off at a Tablelands waterfall. (Images supplied by Dennis Perez Castillo)

A taste of rural healthcare grows the love of medicine

What were some of the practical tasks you got to undertake and observe on placement?

Azeez: We've done things like suturing and injections. I've been at a GP practice and a primary health clinic and in the hospital as well. I’ve seen a range of things, which has been very eye-opening.

Sarah: I did some suturing and biopsies, injections, ECGs, and history taking.

Dennis: The supervisors have really supported our learning. I was encouraged to take physical examinations and patient histories, as well as assist in a minor surgical procedure.

What are your thoughts on Atherton Hospital and health care in a regional setting?

Dennis: It's been a really good experience seeing how things are done. The way doctors approach work here seems to be different, you’ve got to be adaptable to a changing environment and fewer resources.

Sarah: I agree with Dennis. I witnessed a patient who was referred to Cairns Hospital with a possible stroke, and the nurse I was with drove her down there. It demonstrates their adaptability, their willingness to sacrifice their time for their patients and do what needs to be done.

As part of your placement, you’ve gone to some of the GP practices around the Tablelands. What was this experience like and was there anything that stood out to you about the role the GP plays in these communities?

Chloe: For me, the big stand-out was the continuity of care you get in rural areas. Some of the patients have been coming to see the same doctor for decades and they’ve built a strong relationship. It was great seeing the level of trust from patients and getting to be part of these interactions.

Many of our graduates pursue careers in rural generalism and general practice. Is that a pathway you guys are considering?

Dennis: I haven’t set myself on anything yet, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can and get a feel for everything first. I’m certainly interested in pursuing a career in a rural setting, I don’t think I would have applied to JCU if I wasn’t!

Azeez: General practice definitely interests me. It encompasses everything I thought being a doctor was about when I was a child. We lived in a small town of 500 people for two years and my dad was the only GP there. I remember seeing the difference he made and how much the town appreciated having him there.  I love the idea of having that general knowledge and doing a lot of things on your own as well.

Chloe: Coming from Brisbane, I've only ever known city life. Now that I've come here and seen what it’s like, rural generalism is definitely on my radar now.

What prompted you to get into medicine, and how do experiences like this placement help shape this pathway?

Sarah: My father had rheumatic heart disease and he had a valve replacement when I was a child young. I remember seeing the impact the doctors were making on him during what was a really tough time for us. That was the initial spark in my desire to impact the health of my community and help other families. Added to that, my mum is a GP and I saw this beautiful impact she had on the patients in a way that I've never seen before. These factors inspired me to choose medicine, and now this placement has further influenced my decision.

Chloe:  From a young age, I was stimulated by all things science. As I got older, I started to see how through medicine you could combine a love for science with positively impacting people. The patient-doctor relationship has become a big motivator for me after this experience; the people you get to meet along the way, the stories you hear, and the connections you make.

Dennis: Medicine is something I've always wanted to do. Seeing my parents work as GPs in rural South Africa for seven years, then moving to Australia where they have continued to practice with dedication to their craft has been very inspiring for me. Added to that, my own experiences with the health system as a patient when I was younger and having a compassionate doctor who fostered a caring relationship with me. So much so that in my first year of medicine I was able to do my health elective at his practice. It feels as if I’ve come full circle.

The full group of JCU MBBS2 students on placement in Atherton, December 2021

Learnings for future placements

Do you have any top tips for other students or learnings to take into your future placements?

Dennis: Asking questions is very important. That's something I've pushed myself to do while I've been here. Ask your supervisor ‘why are you doing this?’ or ‘can I help with that?’. Just get as involved as much as you possibly can.

Chloe: When we learn about certain conditions in medical school, particularly in these early stages, it can be easy to think in black and white terms of ‘textbook’ cases. Seeing these conditions in person provides a really holistic approach to our education. It’s helped with how I think about things like patient histories and examinations, looking at the whole picture of a patients’ case rather than just ticking the boxes for a particular diagnosis.

Azeez: This placement has motivated me to care more about classroom learning. Like Chloe says, things hit home so much more when you see it in the clinic or hospital, rather than just on a PowerPoint slide. During placement, I’ve been going back to read up on different conditions and pharmacology. Applying the learnings is a really cool part of studying medicine.

Rural placements are a core part of JCU Medicine. It’s part of the reason we are Australia’s most successful university at producing doctors who serve our underserved regional, rural, and remote communities.

You can read more about the impact of JCU rural placements, like Georgia’s extended placement on Thursday Island, or Sachin’s experiences in the Atherton Tablelands.

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