First-year Health Students Experience the Rural Lifestyle

10 November 2023

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A new cohort of first-year university health students met for the first time on board the flight from Brisbane to Roma on Friday, 13 October, to begin their GROW Rural South West Queensland (SWQ) journey, with Health Workforce Queensland (HWQ). Aside from 3 other passengers it was like our own private jet!

On arrival into Roma, we travelled straight to St George where Balonne Shire Council and Goondir Health Service welcomed us with special dances by local Indigenous children, guided by their 16-year-old brother Claude Brown. Claude then showed the students how to document their own stories through painting onto canvas and boomerangs. We enjoyed a tour of the practice and then Health Workforce Queensland’s Regional Coordinator for Western Queensland, Louise Bambury, led a wonderful discussion with the team at Goondir, including Dr Hnin Wynn who was recruited with the assistance of Health Workforce Queensland. Louise also discussed job pathways into rural job placements as new graduates with the students.

We went on to tour the St George Community and Wellbeing Centre, which is in its final stages of construction, and St George Medical Centre where we met with Dr Karen Benn, Councillor Alex Benn and RN Holly Champion. It is here that the students took part in a plastering skills session which provided practical hands-on experience and quite a few laughs. Alex and Karen are not only the owners of the practice, but they also run a citrus farm at their home just a few minutes from town where we were invited to dinner. We spent the evening happily wandering among their citrus trees, sipping wine with dried blood oranges from their farm, eating blueberries straight from the bushes and devouring paella. Another highlight were the Benn’s four children, including Jack who surprised Karen with a visit home from boarding school. We weren’t crying, there was just something itching our eyes.

Saturday morning, we piled back on our specially hired bus and drove the two hours back to Roma, where the day was spent with the team at Vital Health. Our students met local high school students and together, they participated in clinical skills sessions, including general practice, occupational therapy, speech pathology and nutrition/dietetics. The students on the GROW Rural program are from a variety of disciplines, including medicine, dentistry, midwifery, nursing, nutrition/dietetics, occupational therapy, paramedicine, pharmacy, podiatry and speech pathology. This was a valuable opportunity to be exposed to the various disciplines involved in patient treatment and care. Local high school students, all of whom have shown an interest in a health career, benefited from being part of the skills sessions and connecting with the GROW students to talk about university life and study. The skills session’s theme was ‘It takes a team to support a child’ and incorporated clients, 13-year-old Mitch who has cerebral palsy, and Callen, a 9-year-old boy who has autism spectrum disorder. The scenario focused on understanding the experience of children with various clinical needs, including intellectual disabilities and mobility challenges, their families and the healthcare professionals who provide comprehensive care. The ways in which the health professionals from Vital Health and Maranoa Medical Centre so capably demonstrated inter-professional collaboration and teamwork left a lasting impression on the GROW Rural students.

The afternoon was spent with local families who kindly offered to billet the students for the night, welcome them to their homes and show them around town. We all met for a special community dinner that evening, hosted by the Maranoa Regional Council. Mayor Tyson Golder invited the students to make those all-important connections along with the guests which included local families, an RFDS pilot, the head of Headspace and many others, all eager to share their stories and lives with the students. Set under the Big Rig among fairy lights and history, our future shone bright.

Sunday was spent at Roma Hospital where we had the rare opportunity to tour the emergency department, rehabilitation area, maternity suites and the student accommodation facilities. National Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Ruth Stewart, and CEO of South West Hospital and Health Service (SWHHS), Dr Anthony Brown joined us for some wonderful conversations, alongside Rohan Ballon, Senior Community Nutritionist at SWHHS, Leanne Raatz, Director of Nursing at Roma Hospital and Sally Graham, Clinical Nurse facilitator at Roma Hospital. All the speakers emphasised the importance of doing the things that interest you professionally and within your community, to achieve the balance required to grow a fulfilling life.

From here it was time to relax and unwind a little with a beautiful lunch, tasting plate and tour of Western Queensland Spirit, a new local craft distillery. Ruth and Tony joined us to continue the conversations and we were lucky to have a recent graduate of GROW Rural Central Queensland, Dineli Kalansuriya who was on placement in Roma join us also. It was the perfect way to end a magnificent weekend. ​

Chris Mitchell, HWQ CEO, said "GROW Rural is a community led program which allows rural communities to actively participate in growing their future workforce. This year we’ve collaborated with the communities of Roma and St George to deliver a program that includes both clinical skill sessions and opportunities for GROW Rural students to experience being part of a rural community. Ultimately, we envision GROW Rural’s contribution to increasing the number and retention of health professionals working in SWQ."

HWQ is grateful for the funding support provided by Western Queensland PHN for the GROW Rural SWQ program. We also appreciate and thank the health professionals, organisations and community members who volunteered their time to share their expertise and enthusiasm to support such a valuable and memorable program for our new GROW Rural cohort.

For more information on GROW Rural go to our website via the button below.

GROW Rural

To view the photo album for this event click below.

Photo Album