Innovation and solidarity thrive in regional health education

  • Staff at the Mildura COVID-19 testing site with coffee and snacks provided by Monash Rural Health as a token of gratitude, July 2021.
    Staff at the Mildura COVID-19 testing site with coffee and snacks provided by Monash Rural Health as a token of gratitude, July 2021.
  • Monash medical student David McAlpine on placement at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon, Victoria.
    Monash medical student David McAlpine on placement at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon, Victoria.

Over the past two years, Monash Rural Health, like all rural clinical schools and regional health services, has experienced levels of disruption never seen before. From the ongoing effects of the global pandemic to the devastation of bushfires and floods within our regions, we have seen and felt their significant impact on our local communities.

While the ongoing effects continue to be felt, these challenges have provided multiple opportunities to innovate and rethink how we do what we do and our role within the regional communities we serve.

As a school, we know firsthand the challenges faced by many regional health services at the best of times. The influx of patients at the height of the pandemic, and the health workforce shortages that followed, have been acutely felt across our footprint. We have been immensely proud to see Monash medical students step up to support the local workforce while on their regional placement – as well as taking on additional responsibilities beyond their studies.

Earlier this year, when a Pandemic Code Brown was called across all public hospitals in Victoria, our staff and students rose to the challenge to support local services. For example, students in Traralgon participated in the surge workforce at Latrobe Regional Hospital to help relieve some of the burden on clinicians. This unique experience also provided students with an incredible opportunity to learn about health service delivery, at the coalface, during a major crisis. Working with Bass Coast Health, some of our students in Wonthaggi joined the local vaccination clinic providing a vital service to the community and embracing the opportunity to put their clinical skills to use.

In Mildura, our students have helped deliver Mildura Base Public Hospital’s ‘Hospital in the Home’ services, treating and monitoring COVID-19 patients across the Mallee region remotely. This important work not only reduced pressure on the hospital’s emergency department, but helped ensure critical resources were dedicated to the region’s sickest patients during staff shortages.

Several medical students at Bendigo are currently working in paid medical assistant (COVID-19) roles in the Bendigo emergency department, in an extension of the medical scribe role. Students have also been working in the local Public Health Unit, remotely monitoring and supporting COVID-19-positive patients at home. These are wonderful opportunities to build relationships with hospitals and enhance the capability of our graduates.

During this time, it’s been important for us to show our gratitude to our regional health workforce for their ongoing dedication to keeping us all safe and healthy. At the peak of COVID-19 vaccinations in September, our team in Mildura provided free lunches for health workers at Mallee District Aboriginal Services and coffees for those who worked in the Mildura PCR testing clinic, as small gestures of appreciation and solidarity.

As a school, we have strengthened our relationships with local health services and our regional health workforce over the past two years. We are proud to support them and look forward to continuing to work together to innovate, attract students to rural training and improve health outcomes within our rural communities.

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