UOW celebrates 10 years of graduates from Graduate Medicine Shoalhaven
Regional focus essential to keeping exceptional doctors in the community
Ten years ago, the first cohort of students from the University of Wollongong’s Graduate Medicine Shoalhaven celebrated the end of their degrees.
Now, many of those young doctors still live and work in the region, as medical specialists and general practitioners, giving their skills and time back to the community in which they were trained.
Many of the graduates who have remained in the region are now specialists at Shoalhaven Hospital, with their field of expertise including gastroenterology, paediatrics, anaesthetics, and geriatrics. It is not unusual to find a surgery at Shoalhaven Hospital fully staffed by UOW graduates.
This rural focus is at the heart of UOW’s Graduate Medicine program, which embeds medical professionals in regional and remote communities with the aim of creating the next generation of regional doctors.
UOW Graduate Medicine Shoalhaven launched in 2007 at the University’s West Nowra campus. There were 22 students in that first Shoalhaven cohort, all of whom were drawn to the advantages of being able to study medicine in a regional setting.
Under the program, up to 70 per cent of students spend a year training in a rural community, an experience that helps graduates prepare for the myriad challenges they will face on a daily basis if they choose to practice in these regions.
Dr Amanda Venables was among the first cohort to study at UOW Graduate Medicine Shoalhaven. A pharmacist from Milton who had always wanted to be a doctor, Dr Venables saw the opening of Graduate Medicine Shoalhaven as the opportunity to fulfill her dreams while juggling family life and staying connected with the community.
“Until there is a fork in the road, you keep driving,” she said of the decision to become a doctor. “I had always wanted to study medicine, but I ended up in pharmacy. But when the campus opened in Nowra, suddenly it was an option and opportunity to do what I had always wanted to do.”
Dr Venables has trained as a GP anaesthetist and works in general practice in Milton providing anaesthetic services at both Shoalhaven and Milton hospitals. In addition, she spends one day each week at Waminda in Nowra, the South Coast’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation.
Dr Katie French grew up in the Shoalhaven, where she attended a local high school and was involved in sports. In fact, she was born at Shoalhaven Hospital, and knew exactly what it meant to be part of a small community.
Now a specialist in geriatrics at Shoalhaven Hospital, Dr French has found a role that enables her to connect to the region’s elderly and also help unravel complex medical issues.
Dr French works alongside many of the students with whom she once studied. Being part of a small medical team at the hospital is so much more enjoyable, she said, and provides her with greater opportunities than if she was in the city.
“We have exposure to a wide range of medical presentations and sub-specialties, which means we get to see a bit of everything. It really helps to improve your medical expertise and experiences,” Dr French said.
Associate Professor David Garne, Director of Community, Primary, Regional and Rural for Graduate Medicine, said the University of Wollongong draws approximately two thirds of its students from regional and rural areas, higher than any other NSW medical program. This strong focus on regional medicine continues throughout the degree.
Immersing students in the community demonstrates how rewarding and enjoyable regional medicine can be, and the deep benefits of getting to know the people within a community. For students who come from regional areas, it keeps that knowledge and those skills within the community.
“We lay the foundation for students to work in any field of medicine and any setting they choose, but we try to show them that working rurally is very rewarding and it can be a pleasant, productive and fulfilling lifestyle,” Professor Garne said.
“Exceptional healthcare and access to caring, experienced doctors is vital to the future of our regional and rural communities. Knowing that many of our graduates remain in areas like the Shoalhaven shows that our rural focus is working and that taking the time to provide students with the experience and knowledge of regional medicine will have an impact for years to come.”