Local research collaboration to improve rural health

  • Simone Heald, CEO of Sunraysia Community Health Services. Michele Conlin, PhD student (inset).

Simone Heald, CEO of Sunraysia Community Health Services. Michele Conlin, PhD student (inset).

The rural campuses of La Trobe University’s Rural Health School are rapidly increasing their research collaborations.  Long term relationships have been increasing with local health care providers, community health and wellbeing organisations and aged care, which have formed mutually beneficial outcomes. Projects are co-designed with health care providers, increasing their influence on the work done locally. The collaboration builds local research capacity and increased research activity. Rural campuses are no longer seen as teaching-only places.

Two options are being used increasingly. The first, the Professional Doctorate, provides professionals with training to research complex problems, develop solutions and make original contributions to knowledge in the context of professional practice. Darren Midgley and Lucas Lloyd are investigating intergenerational care and palliative care, respectively, at Chaffey Aged Care and Sunraysia Community Health Services.

The second is a unique La Trobe scholarship called an Industry PhD, which is a collaborative scholarship between an organisation and La Trobe University. The three-year scholarship allows the PhD student to actively work in the organisation while undertaking a PhD.

Currently there are three rural Industry PhDs with:

  • Sunraysia Community Health Services on improving care for people with chronic health issues
  • Murray PHN on ear nose and throat issues in primary care
  • West-Wimmera Health Services, on new ways of health promotion.

We hope to start recruitment soon for FamilyCare, in the Goulburn region.

‘La Trobe’s Industry PhD program is the perfect initiative for us to get access to a researcher on-site,’ said Simone Heald, CEO of Sunraysia Community Health Services.

Ms Heald says with their PhD student, her organisation is looking at identifying new ways of supporting patients.

‘Local statistics indicate that a large number of patients could be prevented from hospitalisation, if they had access to a community-based service. The industry PhD program allows us to investigate how this new care model may improve care for these patients. This research project will assist the health sector in hearing the voice of our community and facilitating their wishes by caring for them at home,’ Ms Heald said.

Michele Conlin has just commenced her PhD, in partnership with West Wimmera Health Services. She is currently based in France, with plans to move back to Australia sometime this year.

‘With most of us having been house-bound for a big chunk of 2020, I don't feel like it's a big change in terms of work style! But I am very much looking forward to being back in Australia in the coming year.

‘I'm already familiar with the Wimmera and had previously considered moving to the area to practice as a nurse. When I started looking for PhDs, I was searching for projects which could have an "immediate" impact on communities. The Industry PhD with La Trobe meant that I would be directly working with a health service, looking at real needs and trying to produce useful outcomes for both people working in health and community members – so I jumped on the opportunity!’

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