Generally speaking: JCU’s allied health rural generalist program

  • Medical students train on a human body simulator
  • Woman asisting man in a training excercise

Photos: James Cook University

Marnie Hitchins
Division of Tropical Health and Medicine, James Cook University

Queensland’s James Cook University (JCU) is supporting the expansion of generalism into new health professions and new settings.

Working outside the city as a health professional can be a creative and varied business these days. Health professionals might find themselves playing technology wizard one minute, team motivator the next, then slotting back into a more traditional treatment or caring role.

The ‘generalist’ role has long been the cornerstone of rural medical practice; generalism is being applied in more and more health professions and in new settings.

JCU accepted its first intake of allied health professionals this year into its new Rural Generalist Program, which is tailored to the needs of rural and remote health services, and is delivered in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology.

JCU’s Division of Tropical Health and Medicine Deputy Vice Chancellor Ian Wronski is looking at how the ‘philosophy’ of generalism might be expanded and applied more broadly.

“What we’re thinking of when we say ‘generalism’ is evolving rapidly. New technology and the cost of healthcare is driving this evolution beyond simple clinical generalism,” said Ian.

“Health practitioners need a wider range of specialist general knowledge and skills around technology, teams and training,” he said, “Australia can lead the way in this field.”

JCU College of Healthcare Sciences Associate Professor, Rehabilitation, Ruth Barker explained that the Allied Health Rural Generalist Program would train people to apply their professional clinical skills in new, creative and more efficient ways.

“A rural podiatrist who is conducting a consultation via telehealth, for example, will be applying the same clinical skills as the city professional, but she will be doing it differently,” said Ruth.

Successful rural models of care might well be needed by people in cities too, according to JCU’s College of Medicine and Dentistry Dean, Professor Richard Murray.

“Rural communities have a particular need for clinical generalists - the broadly-skilled doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who work as a team to look after the total healthcare needs of their communities,” he said.

“It’s interesting that with ageing populations, increasing levels of chronic disease and more pressure on health budgets, city folk can learn a lot from their country cousins about better integrated, person-centred and community-based healthcare. Rural healthcare has much to teach the city,” said Richard.

Richard said one in five of JCU’s medical graduates went on to become Rural Generalists with the Queensland Rural Generalist Program and another third trained in General Practice.

JCU has been a national leader in producing doctors, nurses and other health professionals who go on to work in regional and remote areas. JCU is a champion of ‘generalism’ and has played an important role in development of rural generalist medicine and more recently, rural generalist allied health.

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James Cook University was a sponsor of the 14th National Rural Health Conference.

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