Monday, 29 February 2016

The Australian study experience

“Is there peanut butter? Are there spiders and snakes everywhere?”

These are just some of the many questions Jaime Notman from Canadian education agency OzTREKK answers every day at work for students wanting to study in Australia.

Jaime spent several days in Gippsland recently, helping eight Canadian students settle into their new medical course commencing at Monash University Rural Health in Churchill.

She ensured all had the essential items needed for their living quarters, took them shopping to the local supermarket to stock up on home-grown delicacies and essentials and then took them for a drive around the immediate area…on the correct side of the road.

“These things all sound basic but when you come from another country, it’s strange,” Jaime said.
OzTREKK supports the students through the entire course application process, from the moment they first apply to the end of the journey. “In the pre-departure stage, we help with accommodation, explain the health care system and warn that Australians drive on the opposite side of the road to us!,” Jaime said.

“Students ask if they should take their own peanut butter as they had been told it’s different in Australia. They are also concerned about spiders and snakes, and even the heat. Our job is to prepare them for what lies ahead. We try to alleviate any stress for them.”

OzTREKK acts for nine universities Australia-wide in assisting anyone considering doing their post graduate study here.

According to Jaime, the quality of education in Canada is similar to Australia and medicine is no exception. “The students (applying for medicine) are great; they are top of their class with incredible marks in their first university course but there are just no places available,” she said. “And Australia has an excellent reputation abroad.”

The strongest interest in Australian graduate studies from Canadian students is in medicine, veterinary science, dentistry, law, speech pathology and physiotherapy.

Jaime is in Australia for several more weeks. From Churchill, she heads for New South Wales and Queensland, making sure her Canadian students there are just as happy as her Gippsland cohort.

See also: International students start medical degree in Churchill


International students start medical degree in Churchill

Eleven new medical students from Canada and Singapore didn’t know much about the Gippsland region before arriving in Churchill last week but by the end of this year, will feel right at home.

The students – eight from Canada and three from Singapore – are part of the intake of 87 students starting their first year of medicine at Monash University Rural Health in Churchill this year. Their program this year will see them on placements throughout Gippsland.

Welcome: 11 international students began their studies at Churchill this year. (From left) Professor Robyn Langham, student Kavisha Gunawardane, Deputy Dean (MBBS) Professor Michelle Leech, students Glenn Teng and Christopher Cunningham. 

Monash has taken up to 15 overseas students each year at Churchill since it began the graduate medical course in 2008 but this is the largest contingent of Canadians ever.

The interest from Canada in particular is expected to continue because of the highly competitive nature of getting into medicine in that country as well as the appeal of time spent studying and living in Australia.

Canadians Christopher Cunningham from Victoria and Kavisha Gunawardane from Vancouver said the current system in their country saw 20,000 students competing for only 2500 places. “It’s not about marks,” they said. “You just can’t get in as there are not enough funded places.”

Both researched overseas study options and were impressed by Monash Rural Health. “Monash has been incredibly helpful throughout the entire process,” Christopher said. “It has a family cohesiveness that I like. My wife is still in Canada and they have helped us find work for her as a teacher here. She will arrive in July.”

Kavisha said it was this personal support that convinced her to make the move.

Both applied through a Canadian agency, OzTREKK, contracted by Monash University to handle course enquiries in that country. After guiding students through the application process, Monash staff then travel to Canada to undertake the final interview with applicants.

All the students have degrees in science-related subjects with Christopher’s background in paramedicine, biology and psychology and Kavisha’s background bio-science.

Glenn Teng from Singapore completed a science degree in Toronto. After serving two years of compulsory national service with the Singapore Army, he began a business course like the “rest of the family”. But it wasn’t for him.

“I wanted to be passionate about my career choice and that’s how I feel about medicine,” Glenn said.
After the students complete their medical degree, they can return to work in Canada and Singapore as the Monash degree is recognised in both countries.

Deputy Dean (Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery) Professor Michelle Leech and new Head of Monash Rural Health, Professor Robyn Langham, joined Churchill staff to welcome the international students at an informal lunch last week.

Prof Leech said the Monash graduate course was different to most other medical courses. “It has a much smaller cohort and students have a different experience,” she said. “They become embedded in their community and it makes a difference.”

 Professor Langham encouraged the new students to enjoy their first year. “I spoke to last year’s cohort and their advice was while they were all ‘scared’ at the start of the course, there was no need and they enjoyed every part of the year.”

Director of Monash Rural Health Churchill, Associate Professor Shane Bullock, said all students were given good support to settle in to their new country and more importantly, their local community.

“We fill them in about the local area, explain local services such as how to get around the region, about things like water, road and bushfire safety and importantly the benefits of engaging with the local community for work, study and leisure,” he said. “We want them to feel at home in their new surroundings.”

Are there spiders and snakes everywhere? Is there peanut butter? Settling in to study in Australia...

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

What demography contributes to rural health

Monash Rural Health's new Associate Professor of Demography, Dr Rebecca Kippen, became a demographer almost by accident. At the end of a business degree majoring in maths and accounting at Latrobe University Bendigo, one of her lecturers suggested she apply for a summer scholarship at ANU. No maths units were offered, but there was a unit in demography, which she’d studied briefly during her degree. So she applied and won the scholarship. “I didn’t realise it was a front for PhD recruitment,” she remembers laughing. It was a successful strategy; she ended up doing a PhD in demography with ANU.

Associate Professor of Demography, Dr Rebecca Kippen, explains her work.

A demographer’s work has two sides. The technical aspect involves measurement of population processes including births, deaths and migration. The broader explanatory aspect investigates why trends and patterns in populations occur and what the implications are.

Recent work commissioned by the Mildura Base Hospital Community Advisory Committee involved projecting Mildura’s population to 2040, taking into account likely future trends in birth, death and migration rates. Among other things, Rebecca and Monash colleagues found that virtually all Mildura’s population increase will occur over the age of 65 years, with an attendant rise in the need for aged-care services.

One of the most memorable projects Rebecca has worked on considered whether Australian parents want children of both sexes. The project used census and survey data to determine how likely parents were to have a third child if they already had two sons, two daughters, or one of each sex. The researchers found that parents were more likely to ‘try again’ if they had two boys or two girls rather than one of each, indicating a desire for a child of the missing sex. Qualitative interviews found that parents valued each sex equally, but they had different experiences with each.

Since 2007 Rebecca has been involved with the Founders and Survivors project. “The project is a lot of fun,” she says. A partnership including the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Female Convicts Research Centre and a team of enthusiastic volunteer retirees, the project follows the lives of around 70,000 convicts transported to Tasmania between 1803 and 1853, and their descendants until World War One. It aims to compare changes in population health and resilience under stress.

Comparing populations is also the focus of Rebecca’s ongoing work with the School of Rural Health. She will now be working on a longitudinal population study with the Hazelwood Mine Fire Health Study. This is tracking the population of Morwell which was most closely affected by the 2014 Hazelwood fire and comparing it with a control population in Sale.

Regional experience convinces medical graduate to return

As a medical student Debby Darmansjah got used to adapting to new environments. This year she will settle into the East Gippsland area as she commences her internship with Bairnsdale Regional Health Service (BRHS).

Constructive learning: Debby Darmansjah enjoyed her rural placements so much, she's returned to Gippsland for her internship and plans to stay.
The Indonesian-born medical graduate came to Australia at the age of 15 and spent several years boarding in Perth before moving to Melbourne to complete an undergraduate degree in biomedicine.

Upon completion of the three year degree she gained entry to the Monash graduate medical course with the first year at Monash Rural Health in Churchill. This four year course included multiple placements in the Latrobe Valley and across Gippsland.

“I think being in a rural environment really suited my personality,” Debby says now, reflecting on her time spent at Maryvale Private Hospital in Morwell, Bass Coast Health at the Wonthaggi Hospital and a lengthy stint with Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH).

“Being in these settings means there are a smaller amount of students and more opportunity for hands-on learning,” she said.

Debby’s first clinical year included placement at LRH. “This was my favourite year of all my years at medical school,” she said. “There was a small group of about 20 and we felt like a real team – I just loved everything about it, especially the clinical nurse educators who taught me; I could still remember their tutorials right through to the end of my medical studies, they were so helpful.”

As part of her course Debby also spent 12 months rotating through GP, psychiatry, women’s health and paediatric placements across Melbourne. She said the nature of the course was beneficial in “helping you adjust to new environments” but appreciated the opportunity to later return to LRH for a general medicine placement.

“I had such a great time that I really wanted to return - everything felt familiar there and I was able to pick up where I left off,” Debby said.

“I would definitely encourage other students to consider doing what I have done; in fact when I did my final year with LRH I also tutored first and second year students and I would tell them that,” she said.

Next year Debby, who thinks she may specialise in general practice after her internship, will embrace a new regional community, moving to Bairnsdale to start work with BRHS. Though she’s spent minimal time in East Gippsland so far, she is looking forward to the change, saying “I have heard so many good things about it so I am really excited.”  

Monday, 1 February 2016

Shepparton student takes year out for Bendigo research project

A former Shepparton student has his sights set on a medical career and the Monash Rural Health is helping him realise his dreams.

Taking a break from his medical studies, Dan Hogarty is looking forward to being part of a local research project in Bendigo this year.

Dan and fellow student with Monash Rural Health, Nic Dewhurst, will be working with Bendigo ophthalmologist Dr Peter Burt on a project around the intraocular lens. They will resume their fourth and fifth years of study after that.

“I definitely haven’t decided what I will specialise in yet but have a strong interest in ophthalmology,” Dan said. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specialises in eye and vision care.

“This will be my research year and it is a great opportunity to work with Dr Burt and Nic on comparing the effectiveness of the new and current intraocular lens,” Dan added.

Intraocular lens(IOL) are implanted in the eye used to treat cataracts or myopia. The most common type of IOL is the pseudophakic IOL which is implanted during cataract surgery.

Born in Shepparton, Dan’s interest in studying medicine grew stronger in his senior years at Shepparton's Notre Dame College. “I have always had a logical mind and biology was one of my favourite subjects so it was a natural fit,” he said.

“I researched the best courses and [the Monash course] stood out for me as being from a regional area, I really jumped at the chance to study medicine rurally.”

As part of the Extended Rural Cohort program, Dan completed his first two years of medicine at Monash University's Clayton campus before spending this third year with Monash Rural Health in Bendigo. His fourth and fifth years will be based in Bendigo too.

Dan’s third year was busy but “rewarding”.

“You really learn how the hospital (Bendigo Health) works and after two years of a lot of theory, you really feel part of the health system and get exposed to a range of hands-on experiences,” he said.

When Dan decided to become a doctor, his Shepparton parents and Tatura grandparents were naturally “very proud”.

Now they have a double reason to celebrate as Dan’s younger brother, Joseph, made the same career choice and is currently in his first year of medicine at Monash University Clayton.


Flying into a medical career

Proud moment: Leigh celebrates his graduation with his two children
Flying operational missions with the RAAF is a long way from working as a medical intern at Sale Hospital. But Leigh Carpenter couldn’t be happier.

In 2015 Leigh completed his final year of medicine, most of it with Monash Rural Health. This year, he will become an intern at Central Gippsland Health Service (CGHS) Sale campus.

After 25 years as an airforce pilot, the last 16 at East Sale RAAF Base, Leigh had what he described as a “midlife crisis”. “Many factors influenced my decision,” Leigh said. “I’d hit that critical point in my career when it was either climb up the command chain and sit behind a desk, get out and fly for a commercial airline or change careers.”

Ironically, Leigh had wanted to become a doctor since high school. However he was also attracted to military flying. “It was hard to decide which path to jump down but I chose the latter,” he said. “I have a strong science background which helped.”

After graduating from the Defence Academy in Canberra, Leigh completed pilot training in Perth, followed by stints in Sydney and Katherine before being posted to East Sale. He flew varied aircraft, including the Hercules, and spent considerable time on deployment including in the Middle East.
“Operational deployments change your outlook on life,” Leigh said.

So sponsored by the military, Leigh enrolled in the Monash graduate-entry medical course, completing his first year with Monash Rural Health in Churchill and the following years between Sale and Bairnsdale. It was the opportunity to study medicine in a rural or regional area that appealed to Leigh who didn’t want to disrupt family life – he is married with two children, aged ten and six.
“We really love living here and were reluctant to move,” he said. “We love the open spaces.”

The second year of his course saw Leigh studying in Sale while the third was predominantly with a GP clinic in Maffra and rotations between paediatrics and obstetrics at Sale Hospital. This, his final year, has seen three rotations at metropolitan hospitals and three rotations at Sale and Bairnsdale.

Starting his internship at Sale in the new year, after 10 weeks on rotation through emergency, general medical and general surgery at Sale Hospital, Leigh will undertake the remaining 20 weeks with the Clocktower Medical Clinic in Sale. He will then return to the military for five years where he will specialise in aviation medicine, but eventually he hopes to become a GP, preferably remaining in the local area.

“I’d be over the moon … I love general practice.”

Mental Health Vacation School continues to impress


The Gippsland Mental Health Vacation School has continued to cement its reputation as a valuable program, exposing students to a wide range of Gippsland organisations and experiences.

The unique Monash Rural Health program ran twice in 2015, with the most recent group of students spending a week visiting 12 Gippsland organisations late last year.

The most recent group of Gippsland Mental Health Vacation students visit the Department of Education & Training in Moe. The group visited organisations from right across the region.
The group comprised 11 students studying in areas including psychology social work and occupational therapy and coming from four different institutions: Monash University, the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. Two of the students were local to Gippsland but others came from outside the region.

The students were provided with an opportunity to meet with senior personnel from key Gippsland support services. They also heard from two people with a lived experience of recovering from mental illness and participated in a session which specifically focused on working with Aboriginal people with a mental illness.

Monash Rural Health lecturer Keith Sutton, who oversees the vacation school said the program, which seeks to redress the imbalance in the proportion of mental health professionals working in rural and remote areas compared with metropolitan areas, is the only one of its kind in Australia.

By raising awareness of the range of mental health services provided in Gippsland and the career opportunities available within them, the program aims to build positive perceptions among students of the local possibilities, Mr Sutton said.

Student feedback regularly indicates the program is achieving its objectives. From the most recent group, student Kayce Ritchie – a Gippslander – said that despite living in the region the program had still provided her with “an immense amount of knowledge about the services that this area offers.”

“I now have a greater understanding of the possible job opportunities in the mental health field,” she added.
Fellow group member Hallie Marmion described the Vacation school as an “insightful and valuable experience.”

“It provided me with exposure to such a broad scope and in-depth understanding of service provision, funding and protocol in the area.

“What I loved most about the program was hearing from experienced professionals about their pathways and rich life and case experiences.

“And getting to hear from individuals with lived experience of mental illness and their journeys to recovery was a lesson in empathy that can’t be taught from books or in the classroom,” she said.