‘Pioneer’ students enter fourth year of medical-degree program

Published 03 February 2011

kimcassimWith its first cohort of medical students entering the fourth year of their five-year degree program in 2011, the University of New England is looking forward to their graduation from the ground-breaking Joint Medical Program in two years’ time.

The Joint Medical Program, a collaboration between UNE and the University of Newcastle together with Hunter New England Area Health Service and Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service, has successfully met the challenges of conducting a highly complex course “in parallel” across two university campuses.

Associate Professor Rafat Hussain, Acting Head of UNE’s School of Rural Medicine, said that this success was evident in the fact that students on both campuses were achieving equivalent levels of knowledge and skills.

Dr Hussain attributed much of this achievement to the dedication of academics across the two campuses and the involvement of local clinicians in the students’ training. “The clinicians from the Armidale and surrounding regions involved in the program have really played a very significant role in ensuring that our students have positive early clinical exposure,” she said. “The people who examined our third-year students last year were impressed with the clinical knowledge and  skills the students had  developed. And I’ve had very positive feedback from GPs who’ve hosted student placements from UNE.”

“The appointment of senior academic staff in conjunction with Armidale Hospital offers opportunities for specialised training as well as contributing to the availability of high-quality clinical services in the region,” Dr Hussain said.

Third-year medical students started back at UNE last week, and are spending several weeks in intensive clinical training conducted by local clinicians – with the help of their patients – before dispersing all over Australia for month-long clinical placements. The participation of medical patients, who volunteer their time to be “poked and prodded” by the students, is just one aspect of the vital involvement of community members in the program. “The success of what we’re doing wouldn’t have happened without this sort of community contribution,” Dr Hussain said.

Second-year students return to the School of Rural Medicine on the 21st of February, and first-year students will begin in earnest on that day after taking part in the University’s week of Orientation activities starting on the 14th of February.

The fourth-year students will be spending most of the next two years working in hospital rotations. They have just returned from two-month placements around Australia – and around the world – designed to give them experience in recognising and analysing health equity issues. For these placements they travelled as far afield as Tanzania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Uganda, India, Vietnam, Samoa, Fiji, and Saint Kitts (West Indies).

At the moment they are based at clinical schools in hospitals associated with the Joint Medical Program: John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, Manning Hospital (Taree), Tamworth Hospital, Gosford Hospital, and Armidale Hospital, where building of the Tablelands Clinical School is about to get under way. The Tablelands Clinical School, to be established with a grant of $5.5 million from the Commonwealth Government, will house not only state-of-the-art training facilities, but also rooms to attract additional GPs to Armidale.

UNE is at present well into the process of finding a successor to Professor John Fraser, whose leadership as Foundation Head of UNE’s School of Rural Medicine has been an important factor in ensuring the success of the School itself – and the Joint Medical Program partnership as a whole. Professor Fraser, who stepped down from the position of Head of School at the end of last year after three years of dedicated service, will remain a member of the School’s teaching staff.

The Joint Medical Program is currently in the process of enrolling new students for the 2011 intake on both campuses. Interviews have been completed – 200 at UNE and 400 at Newcastle – and offers are now being made. As in previous years, UNE will have no trouble in filling the 60-odd places on offer at the Armidale campus with high-calibre students.

The interview process reveals another aspect of community involvement in the program: each interview of a potential student is conducted by a community member together with an academic, with 48 members of the Armidale community taking part in the recent round of interviews at UNE. “Being able to interview applicants with a non-academic member of the general community is an enriching experience,” Dr Hussain said, “revealing, as it does, how people see the medical profession, and what qualities they value most in their doctors.”

The Joint Medical Program is dedicated to fostering those qualities in the doctors of the future.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show third-year medical students Tony Kim and Maryam Cassim investigating skeletal function in the UNE School of Rural Medicine’s Anatomy Laboratory.