Ambitious goals in rural medical education and health research

  • Year 1 medical students enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the Orange campus.
    Year 1 medical students enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the Orange campus.
  • Dr James Wickham, Head of Anatomy, teaching Year 1 students using von Hagens state of the art plastinated specimens.
    Dr James Wickham, Head of Anatomy, teaching Year 1 students using von Hagens state of the art plastinated specimens.
  • Dr James Wickham, Head of Anatomy, teaching Year 1 students using von Hagens state of the art plastinated specimens.
    Dr James Wickham, Head of Anatomy, teaching Year 1 students using von Hagens state of the art plastinated specimens.
Catherine Keniry
By
Charles Sturt University, School of Rural Medicine
Catherine Keniry PhD
Director, Research and Medical Evaluation
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The School of Rural Medicine (SRM) at Charles Sturt University (CSU) was established out of a community desire to see more rural students study medicine and have the opportunity to study in rural and regional locations. CSU SRM enrolled its first cohort of 43 students in February 2021. We now have 119 students enrolled, 118 of whom are from rural backgrounds.

In establishing the SRM, CSU partnered with Western Sydney University to offer the Joint Program in Medicine (JPM). Both universities deliver a common curriculum and associated assessments but, in delivery of the program, CSU contextualises its material and pedagogies so they are relevant to the rural context.

Our aim is to establish a dedicated rural medical school with a focus on generalism and other skills needed for regional to remote practice, with the broad goal of supporting the medical workforce needs of rural communities. Our school’s vision is to improve health outcomes for Australians living rurally and remotely, through training medical graduates committed to living and working regionally.

We are committed to a strong and culturally safe Indigenous health program that is integrated through our entire degree and also supports the development of new First Nations doctors. We are very proud to have seven Indigenous students in years one to three.

Location map
Location of CSU SRM's clinical schools.
(Click to enlarge)

We currently operate nine clinical school regions in both New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, with training sites stretching from Beechworth in the south to Lismore in the north. Our students complete their preclinical training (years one to two) at the Orange Clinical School, with time also spent in one of the other eight rural clinical schools. In years three to five, students are immersed in the communities of one of the nine clinical schools for the duration of their clinical training.

In addition to our unique approach to a rural generalist curriculum, supporting research in rural and remote areas is integral to our mission. We are striving to become a centre of excellence for rural health research by collaborating with rural and remote clinicians and supporting research-interested (but perhaps not research-productive) rural clinicians to undertake research projects. We also teach our students research skills and encourage an interest in research via our Doctor of Medicine (MD) research project program, which they undertake during years three to four of their clinical training. We are aiming to develop a unique training experience, with students undertaking a research project relevant to the community they live in and addressing crucial health-related issues within that community.

We are on the way to achieving this goal. In 2023, our inaugural student cohort commenced their clinical years and, with this, have commenced their MD research projects, which will be submitted at the end of 2024. A selection of the projects, which will undoubtedly impact local issues, include:

  • a systems-based approach to building a rural medical workforce capacity in NSW – interrogation of the Rural Generalist Mental Health pathway
  • workplace cultural safety – the lived experience of Aboriginal early career clinicians
  • cultural competency within the Bowraville GP Clinic
  • a review of the Share the Dignity program in a rural area
  • audit of readmissions for eating disorder patients in Western NSW Local Health District
  • the rural bladder botox experience
  • retrospective review of preconception care at Albury Wodonga Health Service for type 1 diabetes mellitus patients.

As our program further develops, and our integration into the rural and remote NSW and Victorian medical communities expands, we hope to support more local rural health research and, in turn, address important  health issues to improve the lives of Australians living in rural and remote regions.

If you are interested in developing a research collaboration with us, please contact: Dr Catherine Keniry, Research Director, School of Rural Medicine, Charles Sturt University, at [email protected]

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