Recent bushfires in East Gippsland, Victoria have destroyed many properties and caused much devastation, a devastation that many community members have not experienced before. The vastness and ferocity of these bushfires has been viewed globally with many offers of help pouring in from around the world – and much closer to home.
Many Monash graduates who spent time in this region as medical students sent offers of help when they heard about the East Gippsland bushfires. Many of the areas burnt are places where they attended outreach clinics. But they also enjoyed visiting them and have formed friendships with community members who have lost property and homes.
It was not surprising when the recent bushfires burned much of the East Gippsland region that students were concerned and wanted to help in any way they could. Many former students sent emails and text messages to local staff and friends in the community with sincere thoughts and offers to help in the acute and recovery phase, and seeking guidance as to how they might support the East Gippsland community in the future. They also expressed their desire to visit the region and encouraged other students to donate time to support the recovery programme.
Monash University’s School of Rural Health clinical site in Bairnsdale has been providing clinical placements for medical students since its inception in 2003 as part of the Australian Government’s Rural Clinical School program (as it was then known). The aim of the program is to allow medical students to undertake extended blocks of clinical training in rural and remote communities such as East Gippsland, in an attempt to address the medical workforce shortage in Australia.
Fourth year medical students undertaking extended blocks of training in East Gippsland provide care and support to community members under the supervision of local general practitioners. At the same time, they gain insight into the health care and health issues in the region. Many students integrate into the community, join a variety of clubs, and enjoy the local natural attractions. Through their integration with the local East Gippsland community, many students form reciprocal professional and social friendships with members of the community and clinical colleagues. Some students return to the region as clinicians, to visit friends, or return with families to holiday.
The rural training program has left the students with a sense of reciprocity, of wanting to help the communities where they once undertook extended clinical placements. While the danger of further bushfires has not passed, the reassuring offers of support and relief from former students to the East Gippsland community members is very much welcomed.