GROWing North Queensland's Future Health Workforce

05 April 2024

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The inaugural cohort of GROW Rural North Queensland (NQ) health students who have been visiting Mareeba and the Tablelands since 2022 will come together in late April for their final group event. Importantly, the GROW Rural journey for this group of multidisciplinary health students continues as they return to Mareeba and the Tablelands to undertake clinical placements in preparation for local employment as early career graduates. This structured pathway is supported by our Event Partner, Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN), and co-designed by the Tableland communities and health professionals Health Workforce Queensland works alongside.

Sharing the development of GROW Rural as a workforce solution program is Dr Diana House, practice principal of The Doctor House in Yungaburra. Dr House originally assisted with the selection process of the medical GROW Rural students and subsequently came on board as a GROW Rural clinical skill session facilitator, as well as a community billet for the students during their annual visits. Earlier this year Dr House had the honour of supervising the first GROW Rural NQ clinical placement for third–year medical student Lucinda Connolly.

With another six students from the cohort securing placements this year, the outlook for healthcare in the rural communities of the Mareeba and Atherton Tablelands Regions is encouraging.

For Dr House there has also been a journey of growth. Her strong involvement with the program has inspired a business plan to expand the practice to offer allied health services thereby addressing a critical health gap within the community. “I think what makes GROW Rural really special is it doesn't focus on one modality. You have the medical students, allied health students, and you bring them all together and you show how they can all work together in rural communities and achieve really positive outcomes for the community and patients individually. That's really, really special. This program is all encompassing and valuable to communities as well as to prospective rural employees when they finish their degrees,” explained Dr House.

The finishing touches are being made to the program for this year’s GROW Rural NQ event which will run from Friday, 26 April to Sunday, 28 April. Local health professionals, high school students, community members and the 18 GROW Rural NQ students will come together over the course of the weekend to enjoy:

  • Embracing Torres Strait Island tradition through weaving and storytelling

  • Planting native trees at Mareeba Hospital in appreciation of the Mareeba community and their health professionals for their ongoing commitment to growing the Tablelands future workforce alongside GROW Rural

  • Reconnecting with local billet families for a community dinner and an overnight stay

  • Exploring alternative ways of healing through equine therapy

  • Engaging in a disaster recovery scenario highlighting collaborative learning and the role that community plays in disaster recovery

  • Meeting and learning with local high school students during the GROW Rural skill sessions

Health Workforce Queensland’s commitment to growing the region’s future workforce will continue through the locally employed Health Workforce Connector, Ash Bolton. Ash will provide the on-ground support and relationship building for primary health care practices to prepare for the commencement and sustainability of GROW Rural students as early career graduates, as well as immersing them into community life.

NQPHN CEO Sean Rooney said growing the primary health workforce was critical to the strong future of North Queensland. “Increasing the capacity and capabilities of our workforce in regional, rural, and remote areas is paramount to all North Queenslanders leading happier, healthier, longer lives,” Mr Rooney said. “We are proud to support the work Health Workforce Queensland does to showcase the benefits of a career in primary health care in North Queensland.”

Health Workforce Queensland CEO, Chris Mitchell said, “The GROW Rural program is successful in providing practical exposure to a rural lifestyle and professional opportunities. We are delighted to have Physiotherapist Laura Rutherford as a clinical skill session facilitator. Laura is currently a physiotherapist with Proactive Physiotherapy in Cairns, and she was part of the 2017-2019 GROW Rural cohort in Central Queensland. Laura’s journey is proof of the success of the GROW Rural program. We wish this cohort all the very best with their ongoing health careers in North Queensland”.

Health Workforce Queensland extends its heartfelt gratitude to local businesses, healthcare professionals and communities, for their invaluable support and assistance. Without these contributions, this program would not be possible.

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