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Written By

Andrew Cramb

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

17 November 2021

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Eric's placement experience in Weipa

If you ask a JCU medical student about their most memorable university experiences, you’re likely to hear a lot about rural and remote placements. It’s a core component of our students' training and a key factor in why JCU is Australia's most successful university at producing graduates who serve our regional, rural and remote communities.

In addition to the core university placements, students are encouraged to look for opportunities to delve deeper through initiatives like the Lynn Kratcha Memorial Rural Bursary. Since 2001, this bursary has provided funding for second-year JCU students to undertake an additional rural placement to select locations. The bursary recipients for 2021 have recently been announced, with six students getting ready to embark on placements to Queensland’s far north. These placements often have a profound impact on students development, both professionally and personally, as previous recipients can attest to.

Third-year JCU medical student, Eric Smith, undertook a four-week Lynn Kratcha placement to Weipa at the end of 2020. He saw the bursary advertised earlier in the year and recognised it as an opportunity to explore his interest in chronic disease management through a rural or remote lens.

“It was an incredible experience,” Eric says. “Being thrust into the middle of a remote community gave me the opportunity to see major health issues firsthand and understand strategies aimed at addressing them. Many of my supervising doctors and are still great mentors for me now. I certainly recommend applying for the Lynn Kratcha scholarship and Weipa as a rural placement site to everyone,” Eric says.

Eric recently shared more about the range of practical tasks and procedures he was able to perform, his key learnings from the experience, and his advice for this year’s recipients…

Eric and Hayley at Weipa Health Service
Eric at the northern most point of the  Australian mainland
Left: Eric and Hayley Skinner on placement at Weipa Integrated Health Service, Right: Eric at the northern most point of the Australian mainland.

Where I went and what I did

Where I went…

I was placed in Weipa, a small mining town on the north-western side of the Cape York peninsula. Most of my time was spent at the Weipa Integrated Health Service (WIHS). It had most health facilities under the one roof including residential aged care which gave me the opportunity to work with allied health in multidisciplinary team meetings. I also had to opportunity to travel to nearby Napranum and Mapoon to see the outreach primary health clinics at work in predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

What I did…

As a second-year, my clinical expertise coming into the placement was rudimentary, so the work I did there was stimulating to say the least! Some of the procedures and tasks I was asked to participate in include:

  • IV Cannulations
  • Cast applications
  • Fishhook removals
  • Clean and dress wounds with nurses
  • Various clinical exams
  • SCC (skin cancer) excisions
  • Removing of sutures
  • Tooth extractions
  • Deliver injections for the tuberculosis vaccine.

While it was a bit confronting at times, it was an incredible learning experience. My placement partner, Hayley, and I were always well supervised and supported every step of the way.

Off the clock, we had ample opportunity to explore the sights and attractions of the Far North. We travelled to the east coast of the Cape to Lockhart River and up to Chili Beach in Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range). Our JCU placement liaison and Weipa local, Malama, was very helpful in supporting us in our travels around the Cape, even taking us up to the tip of Cape York and across the Torres Strait on a boat to Thursday Island (Waiben) where we caught up with some of our other fellow Lynn Kratcha Bursary winners Abi and Noah. On quieter nights we would go to the beach in the evenings and watch the sunset over the ocean; a rare and beautiful sight for us east-coasters!

Eric with fellow 2020 Lynn Kratcha Memorial Rural Bursary recipients Abi, Noah, and Hayley on Thursday Island

Image supplied by Eric Smith.

What I loved most and what I learned

What I loved most…

I loved the friendships formed during and outside of work with the healthcare team. It was clear everyone respected each other's strengths and relied on one another. By the end of the first week, Hayley and I felt like a part of the healthcare team, and this was such a great dynamic to have. We were not scared to ask questions or assist in procedures for fear of "being annoying". On a more human level, getting to know the wider community was really fascinating. Every person had a unique story to tell, and as the locals proclaimed; "just having a yarn" was perhaps the best thing we could have done as I've learnt so much about their everyday lives.

What I learned…

Witnessing how long it takes to refer to the nearest tertiary referral hospital in Cairns has shown me why having a broad scope of practice is critical. I developed a huge respect for every single health care member of the WIHS team. Everyone working there has a unique role to play in ensuring patients receive the best healthcare possible. I felt so privileged to learn from everyone's unique skills; whether it be the hospital pharmacist who taught me the fundamentals of pharmacology or the medical superintendent who taught me how to cannulate effectively.

What I would tell other students going on placement…

I think the best advice I got given which I would reiterate to anyone is to go into placement with an open mind and get involved in as much as you can. Yes, it's a cliché but it's very true! Our experiences are often tainted by our ill-conceived preconceptions of rural and remote locations, and this can spoil some great experiences.  I have learnt far more than I expected for a 2nd-year med student and I would not hesitate to return here in the future to further enrich my clinical experiences. After all the incredible patients I’ve spoken with and the brilliant healthcare team I’ve connected with, I’m still a little sad the experience is over!

Thank you Eric for sharing your story on placement! His story is one of many that highlight the incredible clinical and community experiences students have on placement. You can also read how Georgia Bulley is contributing to the provision of healthcare on Thursday Island, or how Lachlan Colledge's placements are shaping his interest in rural medicine.

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