Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Traralgon boy returns to practice as local doctor

Though he was once a promising Traralgon College student with a penchant for biology and chemistry, Mitchell Kraan – now a doctor at Latrobe Regional Hospital – knew from early on that he didn’t want to spend his days mixing test tubes in a lab.

When teachers encouraged Mitchell and his peers to start thinking about career options, the long-time local knew he wanted a job with a science base but, importantly, one where he was working with – and helping – people. Reflecting back on his initial ambitions, Mitchell admits “it has all turned out fairly well in that regard.”

As a high school graduate, Mitchell entered the five year undergraduate medical degree at Monash University’s Clayton campus and progressed through, studying hard and undertaking a series of clinical rotations both rurally – including his fourth year at the School of Rural Health’s Traralgon site - and in Melbourne.

Mitchell Kraan (far right) with colleagues Ken and Sandra at Latrobe Regional Hospital. Happy to be back in the Valley
Now aged 25, Mitchell is in his second year out of university and working as a resident at Latrobe Regional Hospital.

Six minutes to get to work

He says while he always harboured a “vague intention” to return and work in the Latrobe Valley, years spent negotiating traffic and living in a “shoe-box apartment” in Melbourne cemented the appeal of living in a region.

“In my first year at uni I lived six kilometres from the campus but it could still take up to 40 minutes to do that trip and eventually I thought ‘I can’t keep doing this’…now I live in Traralgon and it is six minutes door to door for me to get work,” he said.

“I really like the culture at LRH. You get to know the nurses and support personnel, and because I am from this area, I already knew some of the staff – it has a real community feel and it feels different to Monash Medical Centre or the Alfred, for example, where there are so many graduates.”

Continuity with patients

This year Mitchell is gaining experience in paediatrics, psychiatric care, obstetrics and gynaecology to add value to the GP training he will commence next year.

Spending the fourth year of his studies at the School of Rural Healtnh and participating in the integrated GP program – through a placement at Moe Newborough Health - proved critical to Mitchell’s decision to pursue GP training.

“I had a great experience as part of this program, there was so much variety and we had a chance to have continuity with patients; we could see them over multiple episodes and really get to know them and track them,” he said.

“I did my paediatric work as a student locally and you have your tutorials run directly by consultants like [Director of Paediatrics] Dr Joseph Tam who then takes you on rounds, you have such good access…when I was in the Cabrini Hospital [in Melbourne] I could be tenth in line to see a patient.”

Time for life outside work

Despite the well-known rigours of life as a junior doctor, Mitchell says living locally has helped him strike a balance between work and leisure.

Part of the Scouting community since he was a young boy, Mitchell is now with the Victorian Rover Scouts in Churchill and has held positions on the Region and State leadership teams. He is a keen participant in the Scouts’ musical theatre production, Strzelecki Showtime, and also plays indoor soccer.

“These pursuits are so different from what I do during the day and I like that,” Mitchell said. “I have friends I went to uni with who are being shuffled between city hospitals and they can forget that sort of thing, it’s too hard for them.”

A career in medicine is achievable

Asked whether he would encourage other young students to consider a career in medicine, Mitchell doesn’t hesitate.

“I didn’t have a private school education and my parents weren’t doctors but I just decided that this is what will suit me and I knew I wanted to help people,” he said. “And I think you really do – especially by second year, you have a lot of patient contact and interaction and there is that real capacity to impact on people in such a positive way.”

“I am not shying away from the reality; there is a lot of paper work along the way – especially as an intern – but if you persevere, you don’t have to wait too long to really have that feeling that you are helping,” he added.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Dean's award recognises online teaching excellence

Professor Ross Coppel presents Dr Eleanor Mitchell with the Dean's Award for Excellence in Education (Quality of Teaching) in August 2015.

A love of online teaching and a passion to create change in that space has underpinned the significant achievements of School of Rural Health lecturer Dr Eleanor Mitchell.

Dr Mitchell, who teaches at the school’s Bairnsdale site, was a recent recipient of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Education (Quality of Teaching).

A former research manager at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, Dr Mitchell moved to East Gippsland to work with SRH about five years ago, to develop research in the region. Her role involves assisting academics and health professionals to establish their own research and program evaluations.

The Dean’s Award is in recognition of the successful delivery of a research methods unit to distance education Master’s degree students. Students who are enrolled in this unit come from all over the world and often are from a diverse range of health-related fields. “This provides for interesting and diverse online discussion,” Dr Mitchell said.

Dr Mitchell’s enthusiasm for the unit is infectious. “I teach the students about the background of research and they go through working on a topic of their choice, they undertake a literature review, prepare an ethics application, develop their own proposal and they often choose topics that they are working on.”

When Dr Mitchell took over the unit in 2012 it was being taught in a traditional distance education mode but, with a clear idea of how she wanted to engage off-campus students, Dr Mitchell moved the unit online into Moodle, to enable rich interaction between students and regular communication between Dr Mitchell and the students.

Student feedback indicates the success of these changes, received as part of the Student Evaluation of Teaching and Units process.

Inspired by her own less-than-ideal experiences studying by distance education, Dr Mitchell has also joined forces with Dr Angelo D’Amore, Senior Lecturer and Education Leader at MUDRIH, to conduct research into online learning. The pair are looking at what makes a good online educator and what can be done better.

“Eventually we would love to be able to develop a toolkit for those embarking on online teaching,” she said.

Dr Mitchell is also preparing to present the preliminary research findings at the 12th annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in October this year.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Medical student aims for Australian Olympic team

Alex Rowe has his sights set on the 2016 Olympics - and a career in medicine
The rigours of training for international athletic success might not be everyone’s idea of respite but for Monash medical student Alex Rowe, currently studying at the School of Rural Health in Churchill, his many hours of local running are providing just that.

The high achieving yet humble track star is the fastest man in Australia over 800 metres. Just over 12 months ago Alex ran 1 minute 44.4 seconds to equal the record of Olympic champion Ralph Doubell, which stood for 46 years.

The 23-year-old Melburnian, a gold and silver Australian National Track and Field Championships medallist, is no stranger to hard work – on or off the track.

In order to maintain his form with up to two hours of daily training – and keep up with his studies - Alex has mastered time management; rising earlier, running during lunch breaks and using afternoon time as efficiently as possible. Sometimes he runs in the company of his flat-mate, a VFL umpire, but often alone.

“I try to use the training as a release and a chance to take my mind off the study; it helps to clear my mind so I can go back to the study fresh,” said Alex.

Despite his best efforts, the study load coupled with training and racing demands, on home soil and overseas - made harder by the geographic separation from his coach Justin Rinaldi  - have taken an inevitable toll.

Alex recently announced he was withdrawing from the IAAF World Championships in Beijing as he felt the study load was affecting his training.

“I wouldn’t have had it any other way this year though,” said Alex. “I am enjoying this course so much…but I have decided to defer next year so I can dedicate myself to training and competition.”
“It was a tough decision because I do love both, but when you think about the window of time available when it comes to elite sport, the decision becomes clearer.”

“I absolutely love it here and after running I would definitely consider coming back to a rural position because of the great lifestyle and how much I have enjoyed my time here,” said Alex. “But whilst I am running I need to have the support of the home environment and regular access to my coach.”
With youth on his side, Alex is optimistic his best performances are ahead of him.

“I just want to continue to push myself and see where I end up,” he said. “For me it is all based on the effort and the process, rather than the outcome…but if I keep doing the right things then there are things I would like to achieve, which would hopefully be an Olympic and World Championships final and getting that 800 metre record on my own.”

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Disabled tutors train medical students

Eleven people living with a disability helped as tutors when a group of 50 medical students from School of Rural Health sites at Bairnsdale, Sale, Leongatha, Traralgon and Warragul took part in an annual disability education forum.

The tutors participate in services run by Cooinda Hill in Traralgon. Cooinda Hill Chief Executive Officer, Chris Trotman, said her clients were pleased their opinions were valued which was why the centre had taken part in the program for a number of years.

Gippsland-based Monash medical students learn from clients of Cooinda Hill in Traralgon.

Director of the Centre for Developmental Disability Health Victoria, Dr Jane Tracy, told the fourth year Gippsland-based medical students that people with disabilities encountered many barriers to healthcare, and these included the attitudes and communication skills of doctors and other health professionals.

“Many of these medical students haven't spent time with someone with a disability in a personal interaction,” Dr Tracy said.

“In medical environments, people with disabilities are usually in passive and vulnerable roles, and often feel dependent and disempowered ,” she said. “We want medical students to engage as equals with all patients, and we want people with disability to know they have the right to good healthcare, and the right to complain if this does not occur.

“This training helps breaks down barriers – medical students and doctors feel more comfortable and confident – and people with disability feel they can speak up for themselves. Part of the social change that has happened over the last few decades has been in relation to the recognition of rights and values of people with disabilities.

“For their part, the people from Cooinda Hill clients have told us they love the opportunity to contribute to teaching the doctors of the future, they love meeting new people … and they love being paid for their contribution!”

Dr Tracy provides a theoretical framework for students to use to understand the causes and impacts of developmental disabilities. She outlines examples of the health problems that typically accompany syndromes such as Down syndrome, and where to get more information so students can provide optimal healthcare for their patients with disability.

“It is important for our future doctors to understand that they must always engage with the primary patient. It may seem easier and quicker to talk to an accompanying family member or paid staff member, but the patient is entitled to the courtesy of being spoken to directly; the support person can provide further information and clarification as required,” said Dr Tracy.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Mildura rotations leave students keen for rural practice

Four final year students who have undertaken final year rotations at the School of Rural Health Mildura say they'll definitely be back.

Ben Bambery, Eleanor Bulford, Jacob Jewson and Kenneth de Jong have spent their time in Mildura working across a number of areas including the hospital’s Emergency Department. The benefits of studying in a regional area are many they say.

Final year students (from left) Jacob Jewson, Kenneth de Jong, Ben Bambery and Eleanor Bulford,
say they'll be back.

“We have been exposed to more hands-on training than would have been possible in a metropolitan hospital,” Ben said. “We never felt we were at the end of a long line of doctors.”

Jacob added: “At the big emergency departments in Melbourne, there is a long line of junior doctors. We are fortunate to be exposed to many aspects of medicine and can practise our skills.”

Kenneth and Eleanor both said it was “easy to integrate into the Mildura Hospital”.

“There is a sense of community,” Kenneth said. “You know the other doctors and nurses who are always willing to help,” he added.

Next year, Ben will be at the Austin Hospital, Eleanor at St Vincent’s, Jacob at the Alfred and Kenneth at Eastern Health in Box Hill.

However because of these hospitals’ affiliation with Victorian regional hospitals they will spend parts of their year in the country.

“It would be great to return to Mildura,” they said.

Three of the four students didn’t decide to study medicine until late in secondary school.

Even though both Ben’s parents are doctors, he had no pressure to follow them into the medical field. “My two brothers are engineers,” he said. “I was initially looking at some sort of biological science course.”

Eleanor confessed to always having an interest in medicine however didn’t make her mind up until the last minute. “I was thinking of doing an arts degree,” she said.

Jacob grew up on a farm at Swan Hill, where his father was a farmer and his mother a nurse. “I knew from a young age that farming wasn’t for me,” he said. “I enjoyed science subjects and chose medicine at the end of year 12.”

Kenneth is the only one of the group who always wanted to be a doctor. “My grandparents were doctors and my mum is a nurse,” he said. “It is what I always wanted to do.”

Monday, 7 September 2015

Skills weekend gives students a Bendigo taster

First and second year Monash University medical students had a taste of what’s to come in their course, thanks to fellow students at Bendigo.

A clinical skills weekend at the School of Rural Health Bendigo exposed them to a range of practical procedures.

It was organised by WILDFIRE, the university’s rural and indigenous health club for medical, nursing and allied health students across the university’s campuses and rural clinical schools. A group of interns and resident doctors from Bendigo Health also volunteered for the weekend.

Practice: first and second year medical students got a taste of studying in Bendigo
at a clinical skills weekend.

Interim Director of the School of Rural Health Bendigo, Associate Professor Chris Holmes, said the WILDFIRE clinical skills weekend was a welcome student-led initiative.

“Many of the attendees have had no previous contact with rural centres and the program showcases the student experience in Bendigo, which we hope leads some to consider study and a future in rural areas,” Associate Professor Holmes said.

Bendigo WILDFIRE sub-branch president and third year medical student, Dan Hogarty, helped organise the event. He attended the skills weekend last year as a second year student and found it “a great experience”.

“These 42 students from Clayton get a country experience with a chance for some hands-on learning,” Dan said. “It helps give them a taste for what is to come next year.”

Most of the students are part of the Extended Rural Cohort program, a stream within the Monash medical course.

These students undertake the majority of their clinical education within hospitals and community-based practices in northern rural and regional Victoria. This extended rural training option is provided for students interested in practising medicine in a rural or regional location.

Interns and resident doctors from Bendigo Health ran six stations throughout the weekend.

Stations included looking at a chest x-ray, practising eye examinations, performing a nasograstric tubing procedure, suturing, oxygen therapy, cannulation and performing an electrocardiogram (ECG).

“One of the most interesting parts of the weekend for the students was spending time in the school’s simulation laboratory,” Dan said. “The lab in Bendigo is amazing.

“We find the students get a lot out of the weekend. The first two years of medicine are highly theoretical so it is great for them to come here and see what it is like.”

Associate Professor Holmes complimented the students on a successful event.

“The WILDFIRE students in Bendigo have done an outstanding job pulling together colleagues, junior doctors and clinical skills staff to provide an entertaining and informative experience in Bendigo, and the weekend helps to reinforce the very strong medical education program here,” he said.