Wednesday, 17 September 2014

IVF pioneer speaks in Gippsland

IN vitro fertilisation pioneer and international stem cell researcher, Professor Alan Trounson, will speak on stem cell research and regenerative medicine in the Latrobe Valley on Monday 29 September 29.

In a coup for the local community, internationally renowned Professor Trounson will give a “Community Conversation” in an event hosted by Monash University School of Rural Health Churchill and Federation University Australia, Gippsland campus.

Professor Trounson’s recent comments in Melbourne were widely publicised when he challenged fertility specialists “to put people ahead of profits” by significantly cutting the cost of IVF treatment. His topic in the Valley will be “Stem cells and regenerative medicine: Australia’s place in the global revolution in treatment of cancer, diabetes, blindness, spinal cord repair and potential cure for HIV/AIDS”.

Prior to his public address, he will speak to first year Monash graduate entry students at the School of Rural Health Churchill.

According to School of Rural Health head, Professor Judi Walker, Monash is privileged to co-host Professor Trounson’s visit to Gippsland. 

“His work, not only in Australia but around the world, has changed the lives of thousands of people,” she said. “It is a great opportunity for our medical students in Gippsland to hear him speak and also generous of his time to address the wider public.”

Head of campus at Federation University Churchill, Dr Harry Ballis, said it was a privilege to co-host a speaker of Professor Trounson’s calibre.

“We are delighted for this opportunity to host an international scholar of Professor Trounson’s standing,” Dr Ballis said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for the community to gain first-hand information in relation to some of the cutting edge medical and technical innovations in relation to IVF.” 

“A Community Conversation with Professor Alan Trounson” will be held in the Auditorium, Building 3E, Federation University Australia, Mary Grant Bruce Drive, Churchill from 6-7.30pm. It is open to the public and there will be an opportunity for questions. 

Light refreshments available. RSVP by Friday September 19 to or phone 5122 7445.


Professor Alan Trounson was a pioneer of human in vitro fertilisation (IVF), introducing fertility drugs for controlling ovulation, embryo freezing techniques, egg and embryo donation methods, initiated embryo biopsy, developing in vitro oocyte maturation methods and the vitrification of eggs and embryos.

He led the Australian team for the discovery of human embryonic stem cells in the late 1990s.
With colleagues, he founded the not-for-profit foundations, Low Cost IVF and Friends of Low Cost IVF, to enable wider access to assisted reproductive technology and fertility education for all people across the globe.

Professor Trounson held a Chair in Paediatrics/Obstetrics and Gynaecology and also a Chair in Stem Cell Science at Monash University.  He was Director of the Monash Centre for Early Human Development and also founding Deputy Director/Director of the Institute for Reproductive Biology.
He was the founding Director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories at Monash University. He also founded seven not-for-profit life science companies and the National Biotechnology Centre of Excellence – Australian Stem Cell Centre (2002-03).

Professor Trounson, Emeritus Professor Monash University, has just returned from America where he has been President of the Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine. This is California’s $3 billion stem cell agency, driving research in stem cell biology and facilitating the translation of stem cell discoveries into clinical therapies.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Grant boosts e-Logbook development

A $35,000 research grant will boost ground-breaking work already underway to transform the learning experience of medical students with Monash University’s School of Rural Health (SRH) Latrobe Valley and Warragul sites.

The grant, awarded by the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences , is to further develop an innovative e-Logbook currently used by Gippsland medical students – a tool its creators believe has the potential to be marketed widely in the future.

Already the introduction of the e-Logbook has streamlined the way senior medical  students on clinical placement are reviewed. This year there are 30 of these students working in 15 General Practices and hospitals across the Latrobe Valley and West Gippsland.

SRH Latrobe Valley & West Gippsland Deputy Director Dr Cathy Haigh, who is also the Year Level Coordinator, said “on-the-job” learning was a valuable and long standing tradition in medical education.

Recognising this, Bill Haigh, the Simulation and Blended Learning Coordinator, set out to improve this learning process; to answer how medical students’ learning on-the-job matched the medical curriculum, and supported relevant knowledge and skill acquisition. The e-Logbook is the result.

Prior to the e-Logbook, student placement tracking was paper-based. Recordings were not standardised and it was difficult to collate the data to assess learning and to monitor delivery. The e-Logbook supports students to record against a standard and collation of learning experiences is automatic.

Mr Haigh’s background is in cognitive science. He constantly asks: “Why do we do it that way? Is there a better way?”

The idea of an electronic program made sense to the team: students would receive daily reports and supervisors three-weekly reports which are produced and accessed electronically.

Mr Haigh developed the concept of the e-Logbook in a weekend, adapting the idea to suit local needs. There is an international template, the International Primary Care Classification codes that he used to underpin the e-Logbook design.

The e-Logbook was ready to be piloted in 2010.

The ease of reporting allows students and their supervisors to see and address any problems early in a placement. The e-Logbook also ensures that students are being exposed to a wide range of presentations across four clinical specialty areas: Women’s Health, Children’s Health, Medicine of the Mind (Psychiatry) and General Practice.

The intention of the e-Logbook is to support learning in situ and the aim is to reduce the administrative burden on students and supervisors.

It should take a minimum of 45 seconds to enter details about patient conditions seen and managed under supervision while on placement (no names or other identifying data are used).

Dr Haigh said the grant would allow further expansion of the e-Logbook. It will assist in automating the logbook’s reporting function and enhance its presentation on the small screens of hand-held devices like smart phones, improving students’ access to this resource. The money will also support refinement of the psychiatric placement component of the e-Logbook in line with the release of the latest version of the diagnostic and statistical manual for this specialty.

“Medical training in Gippsland matches national and international standards,” she said.

“We are very fortunate to have two major training hospitals (Latrobe Regional Hospital and West Gippsland Healthcare Group in Warragul) and GP clinics who all want to assist students gain practical knowledge.”

Head of the School of Rural Health, Professor Judi Walker, said the school’s rural health research program focused on improving the health status of rural and Indigenous communities.

“We are proud to lead and foster a program of rural health research,” she added.

The local research project team includes all the medical disciplines covered by the e-Logbook. It comprises Mr Haigh, Dr Haigh, SRH Latrobe Valley & West Gippsland Director Associate Professor Joseph Tam (also a paediatrician), Traralgon GP Dr Paul Brougham, local paediatrician Dr Cathy Coates and Director of Mental Health Services at LRH, Associate Professor Paul Lee. The team members meet monthly to review work on the project.

They hope the final resource can be marketed outside Monash. A prototype is now being developed to facilitate integration of learning across the years of medical training. There has also been interest from other sections of the medical profession.

Health visit for Myanmar women

Study trip: 20 representives of Myanmar's health sector visited Mildura as part of a 10-week visit to Victoria.

A group of women from Myanmar hope information they gained from a visit to Mildura this week will help improve community health issues in their country.

The 20 senior representatives of Myanmar’s health sector were hosted for three days by Monash School of Rural Health Mildura.

Organised by the Monash Sustainability Institute, the 10-week visit to Victoria is funded by a range of organisations including the Australian and Myanmar Governments, and the United Nations.

The women have been to various Monash campuses including hospitals and rural health care facilities. Monash researchers are keen to learn about current issues in Myanmar community health while the Myanmar group is learning of Monash initiatives in community health and related areas.

According to the Head of the School of Rural Health Professor Judi Walker, maternal and child health, and HIV/AIDS present serious health issues in Myanmar.

‘However, mortality and serious illness can often be prevented through adoption of primary health care interventions,” Prof Walker said.

Monday, the visiting fellows toured the Mildura clinical school which included time in the simulation and women’s health training facilities. They also toured the Mildura Base Hospital and at dinner that night, spoke to medical students about HIV/AIDS issues in Myanmar.

Mallee District Aboriginal Services (MDAS) hosted the group on Tuesday which included a visit to Coomealla Health Aboriginal Corporation. Wednesday saw a visit to the Robinvale Medical Clinic followed by a cruise on the River Murray.

Professor Walker said understanding the social context in which community health care was extended was as important as understanding conventional medical practice.

“Monash and Myanmar will establish an enduring collaborative relationship which is responsive to improved health outcomes,” she added.

Arrangements for the Myanmar visitors were organised by SRH Mildura’s Regional Manager,” Kendall Livingston.

“It was a pleasure to meet these outstanding women and we hope that one day some of them may return to Mildura for a follow-up visit,” she said.

Regional pathway to chosen career

Growing up, Derk Pol always wanted to be an airforce pilot but at 197 centimetres, was too tall.
The aviation industry’s loss, however, turned out to be the medical profession’s gain.

Derk is one of seven Gippsland born and bred medical residents working at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon this year.
While different pathways led each to their new profession, they share a deep appreciation of the “regional experience”.

 “Growing up in Gippsland was fantastic,” said Derk who was born and educated in the Moe area. “I felt extremely lucky and it was wonderful to be able to do this course so close to home,” he added.

“If you are from a rural background you are more likely to go back to the rural area. You can tell some kids from the city feel as though they are being forced to the country but rural kids don’t need any incentive to return.”

Educated at Tanjil South Primary School then Presentation College in Moe, he transferred to Marist-Sion College in Warragul when Presentation College closed, before doing a degree at Melbourne University.

Derk did his first year of Monash University’s graduate entry medical degree at Churchill, his second year at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon, his third year at Warragul Hospital and his final year at regional hospitals including Mildura, Bendigo and Frankston. He completed his internship at LRH last year.

He praised both the Monash School of Rural Health and LRH. “The School of Rural Health has done a great job at attracting regional students as has LRH in retaining interns,” Derk said.

“LRH is only going to get bigger. It offers a great exposure to ICU medicine in particular. You get exposed to the real emergency medicine and there is more opportunity to do more cases.”

Derk may specialise in cardiology but admits it is “a long road ahead”. And that dream to fly still remains with a long term goal to get his private pilot’s licence.

Shane Robbins from Maffra worked in Melbourne for almost eight years when he decided on a career change.

Educated at St Mary’s Primary School in Maffra and then Catholic Regional College in Sale, Shane said “medicine ticked all the boxes”.

He believes “life experience” helped him make a decision about what he really wanted to do in life. “You become more focused on that choice,” he added.

Shane wanted to return to Gippsland so the idea of studying at Churchill through the Monash School of Rural Health “was perfect”.

“I love the variety of work which is hard, but satisfying,” he said. “Working in a major referral hospital such as LRH provides opportunities that are not available in large metropolitan hospitals. You learn quickly as there are not as many staff.”

Shane said he always felt Gippsland was “home” and now intended specialising in GP training after his residency, then working in Gippsland.

Andrew Thomas from Churchill attended Kurnai College.

Currently living in Moe, he joined the navy and was a navigator for 12 years when he also wanted a career change.

The navy is putting him through medical school and on completion, he will serve five years as a navy doctor before returning to the country as a GP. “It will be either Gippsland or regional Western Australia where my partner is from,” he said.

“I saw the opportunity to return home to study through Monash’s School of Rural Health as a major bonus. I love this area. And when I fulfil my obligation to the navy, the country is where we want to be.”

According to Andrew, working at LRH gave him the opportunity to be “actually involved” in a variety of situations which broadened his training.

Danielle Winkelman attended Morwell Park Primary School then Kurnai College in Morwell. Because her ENTER score was not high enough for direct entry into medicine, she chose a science degree at Melbourne University with the plan to transfer to a medical degree.

“It was then (after completing the science degree) I heard that Monash University was opening the medical school at Churchill so I had an interview for the first course entry and took a year off while waiting for the school to open,” she said. “I didn’t like Melbourne and couldn’t wait to get back to the country.”

Danielle agreed with her fellow resident doctors that experience in a major regional hospital exposed young medical students to more opportunities.

“I did several placements in metro hospitals and felt like a potted plant – just sitting in the corner, growing and watching,” she said. “I have been fortunate to work at hospitals in Wonthaggi, Sale, Heyfield as well as LRH. You just don’t get that hands-on opportunity (in the city) and I loved it.”

Danielle, who currently lives in Newborough, has 12 week old twin girls. She returns to LRH in August after maternity leave, planning to apply for GP training next year. “I want to work in this area when I am finished,” she said.

Gippsland nurtures new doctors

Local heroes: Four of the Gippsland born and bred medical residents working at Latrobe Regional Hospital this year. They are (from left) Shane Robbins, Derk Pol, Ruth Briggs and Andrew Thomas.

Efforts to train and retain doctors in Gippsland are taking significant steps forward because of the opportunity to study medicine with Monash University in Gippsland.

Seven of the eight doctors completing their residency at Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH) in Traralgon this year are Gippsland born and bred.

Six completed their entire medical degree in Gippsland through Monash University’s graduate entry medical degree, doing their first year of study at the School of Rural Health – Churchill and the bulk of their three years practical training  at the School’s clinical academic sites throughout the region.

The doctors are Derk Pol from Moe, Shane Robbins from Maffra, Andrew Thomas and Sharon Johnson from Churchill, Danielle Winkelman from Morwell, Sarah Wilmot from Paynesville and Ruth Briggs from Tyers. They are joined by Tom Walsh from Sale, who did his first two years at
Monash University’s Clayton campus and the remaining years in Gippsland. They were all interns at LRH last year.

The medical residents said the opportunity to live and study in their “home area” and the exposure to a diversity of experiences offered at LRH, had enhanced their training.

According to LRH Chief Medical Officer, Dr Simon Fraser, the number of interns eager to take up a 12 month residency at the hospital has increased.

“The intern training program is increasingly competitive but attracts a high standard of applicants, as a result,” Dr Fraser said. “There are definite advantages in students continuing their training at LRH which has made a significant investment in teaching medical students. I think the fact that many want to stay on reflects that they enjoy the work.

“LRH provides them with a variety of presentations and encourages them to take greater responsibility for clinical decisions while still having full supervision and support of senior doctors.”

The Monash School of Rural Health has a footprint stretching from Orbost to Mildura with four regional clinical academic units and the Department of Rural and Indigenous Health based at Moe.

In Gippsland, there are clinical teaching sites at Traralgon, Churchill, Warragul, Sale, Bairnsdale and Leongatha with the first year of the graduate entry medical degree program taught from the school’s Churchill site.

According to the School of Rural Health’s Associate Professor of Early Rural Medical Education, Shane Bullock, Monash is committed to improving rural health and developing a sustainable rural health workforce.

Associate Professor Bullock is proud of the achievements of all medical students who come through the School of Rural Health and particularly pleased to see the number of Gippsland students undertaking the course.

He said feedback from students was positive. “The quality of medical education in rural areas is on a par with the city. In fact students have said that in rural areas there are more opportunities for hands-on learning compared to sitting on the sidelines observing. They feel there are real benefits in being part of a smaller workforce.”

Students have spent time at hospitals and GP clinics in Traralgon, Warragul, Sale, Bairnsdale and Wonthaggi. As the major referral hospital in Gippsland, LRH also has links with major institutions in Melbourne.

The students’ clinical training can include inpatients and outpatients, acute presentations, chronic presentations, GP work, maternal and child health services, immunisation and fertility clinics.

Associate Professor Bullock said that where in the past, city students were very reluctant to work in a country hospital, there are now seen to be many advantages.

“It is rewarding for Monash School of Rural Health staff to follow the careers of all our students. Those who return to work here often do so because the experience when they studied here influenced their decision.”

Dr Joseph Tam joins School of Rural Health

The Monash University School of Rural Health has appointed Gippsland paediatrician Dr Joseph Tam to lead an exciting new phase of rural medical education in the region.

Head of School, Professor Judi Walker announced his appointment as Associate Professor of Rural Medicine (Hospital Medical Education) and  Director School of Rural Health - Latrobe Valley and West Gippsland. Associate Professor Tam joins a team of senior Gippsland-based academics to implement innovative models of integrated medical education in partnership with regional hospitals and health services.

The models aim to advance pathways to ongoing rural and regional medical training to ensure a sustainable rural health workforce.

Professor Walker, said Associate Professor Tam, who has been a paediatrician with Latrobe Regional Hospital since 1998 and Director of Paediatrics since 2004, came to the position with “outstanding credentials” including extensive experience in the development and delivery of regional medical education.

“He has substantial clinical and administrative leadership experience and has established strong working relationships with his patients and their families, allied health professionals, colleagues, students and health service executives,” Professor Walker said.

“These are complemented by strong professional links within the health industry, the medical colleges and medical community.”

Associate Professor Tam came to the Latrobe Valley in 1998 from the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Sydney, becoming the only visiting consultant paediatrician at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon. Over 16 years, he established a thriving practice, spearheading the development of the small paediatric service at LRH into a department of five paediatricians and six paediatric hospital medical officers who provide 24/7 on-site services at LRH.

Professor Walker said Associate Professor Tam was regarded as a passionate teacher who has been actively involved in education, training and assessment of medical students and t, international medical graduates, Hospital Medical Officers and paediatric trainees at LRH.

Associate Professor Tam has a long association with Monash University and the School of Rural Health.

In his position as the Children’s Health Program Clinical Coordinator, and as a Monash Child Health Management Group member he worked closely with senior Monash clinical academics across the state.

Associate Professor Tam is represented on national and local medical organisations and is involved in clinical research.

Professor Walker said as incoming Director of the School of Rural Health Latrobe Valley and West Gippsland, Associate Professor Tam looked forward to working with all stakeholders to develop ongoing medical training pathways in Gippsland.

Associate Professor Tam takes up his role on 19 May 2014 and will be based  at the School of Rural Health – Latrobe Valley (Latrobe Regional Hospital).