UNE breaks distance barrier in medical education

Published 26 October 2011

clinical-simA group of medical students at the University of New England became pioneers in medical education today when they were transported, via the Internet, to a specialised training facility in the United States.

In one of the first international links of its kind, five students from UNE’s School of Rural Medicine joined their American counterparts for a training session in one of the world’s most advanced laboratories for the simulation of medical procedures using sophisticated and responsive manikins.

That laboratory is in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine. UNE and UC Irvine have established a collaborative arrangement that will contribute to medical education at UNE. Today’s training session took the students through a scenario that enabled them to apply their knowledge of pharmacology and physiology to the treatment of a lifelike (and realistically vocal) “patient” suffering from heart failure. The interactive link was relayed to the School’s main lecture theatre, where it was observed by many other UNE medical students and staff members.

As a partner in the Joint Medical Program (JMP) – a unique partnership between the University of Newcastle, UNE, Hunter New England Health, and Central Coast Health – UNE offers a five-year Bachelor of Medicine degree program. The JMP’s special focus on regionally-based medical education and practice gives it a particular interest in the use of broadband communication technologies such as those offered by the National Broadband Network.

UNE’s Professor Peter McKeown, the Head of the School of Rural Medicine, said that the NBN could enable the School to become – in effect – “an international medical school in a rural setting”. “And today’s demonstration of the effectiveness of this communication technology in medical education,” he added, “indicates its potential effectiveness at the doctor-patient level.”

Professor McKeown said he was grateful to UC Irvine for its generosity in sharing its state-of-the-art facilities – and particularly to Dr Harry Haigler, an Associate Dean in the UC Irvine School of Medicine, who is leading the organisation of the teaching links with UNE, and Dr Suzanne Strom, Associate Director of the Medical Education Simulation Centre at UC Irvine, who led the students through today’s exercise.

The five UNE students interacted with Dr Strom and her students during the simultaneous session. One of the UNE students, Sam Phillips, said that it had had provided “a valuable adjunct to the theory” they had learnt. And the technology behind the manikins themselves was “awesome”, he said. The same adjective might be used for the communication link itself, which flowed seamlessly from beginning to end.

Professor Victor Minichiello, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of UNE’s Faculty of The Professions, said that today’s link with UC Irvine was an example of “the opportunities that the NBN is providing for connectivity through partnerships”. “It allows a rural university such as UNE, which has the innovative use of e-technology as part of its strategic plan, to become global in its outreach and to link its students with national and international expertise,” Professor Minichiello said. “This means that you don’t have to be in a metro-centric environment to have access to excellence.”