The establishment of the School of Rural Medicine at University of New England was celebrated when a delegation of five academics from the Faculty of Medicine at Naresuan University in Thailand was welcomed back to UNE, six years after the signing of an MOU between the two institutions.
During the visit, the delegation visited bioscience, campus and clinical teaching sites of the Joint Medical Program (JMP) in Tamworth, Armidale and Manilla.
The Bachelor of Medicine, JMP at UNE was developed in partnership with the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health Service and North Sydney Central Coast Health Service. During their visit, the delegation explored this partnership with representatives of the Rural Clinical School and University Department of Rural Health, University of Newcastle based in Tamworth and staff of Hunter New England Health Service. The group explored ideas to build capacity in undergraduate and postgraduate training with a particular focus on the recruitment and retention of rural family physicians and met with local GP, GPs in training and GP Divisions and training organisations.
The Head of the School of Rural Medicine at UNE, Prof John Fraser, welcomed the delegation, which was led by Prof Supasit Pannarunothai and included Asst Prof Dr Wiroj Wannapira, Dr Non Sowanna, Asst Prof Dr Suwannee Uthaisangsook and Asst Prof Dr Sutatip Pongcharoen.
Prof Fraser said, “This historic visit celebrated six years of collaborative work between our medical schools. During this time, the SRM has gone from a dream, to a construction site, to a school of 180 students in its third year operation. It was particularly satisfying to hear that some of the academics involved in previous educational exchanges have become active members of Nareusan University Faculty of Medicine, promoting rural medicine as a career and teaching the next generation of doctors.”
“Rural Thailand and Australia share may similarities,” Prof Fraser added. “One of these is a shortage of rural health professions. Situtated some 400km from Bangkok , in the regional centre of Phitsanulok (population 50,000), the Faculty of Medicine, Naresuan University, Thailand is now in its 17th year of operation. During this time, it has encouraged more doctors to pursue rural health careers and has decentralized some tertiary medical services by developing centres of excellence to deliver clinical services, teaching and research. ”
“The University Teaching Hospital at Naresuan University augments the public hospital system and now provides paediatric cardio thoracic surgery and advanced immunology and cancer treatment services such as bone marrow transplant in a centre of excellence in a rural area. This means that many more rural Thais can gain equity of access to treatment services.”
This model of rural medical education was visited by UNE representatives in 2004 and was used in part for the rationale to develop a medical school in a region of workforce shortage such as the New England, Prof Fraser said.
Prof Supasit said, “We share many challenging issues of health systems and policy in rural Australia and rural Thailand. We learn from each other in helping our health systems being more equitable and more efficient by improving the best quality family medicine delivery system.”