Eight years of collaboration between the University of New England and rural health educators and providers in Thailand took another step forward last week with the visit to UNE of a high-level delegation of Thai health service and university officials.
Their mission was to investigate the integration of medical education and health service provision in rural NSW, with particular emphasis on primary health care and general practice.
Dr David Briggs, an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Schools of Rural Medicine and Health at UNE, explained that Thailand was keen to upgrade the role of its GPs to that of “gatekeepers” of the health service – as in Australia.
Dr Briggs, who coordinated the study tour by Thai officials, has been involved with the international collaborative program over the past eight years. “The program is continuing to build trust and relationships,” he said, “and this week’s visit has seen further positive developments – both for the Thai health service and for UNE’s international profile.”
“The program has included an exchange of students over the past seven years,” he said, “with two Thai students currently undertaking a Bachelor of Medicine degree program at UNE, and another studying for a doctorate. They like what UNE has to offer – including its rural setting.”
Dr Phudit Tejativaddhana, while studying at UNE from 2005 to 2008 for his Doctorate in Health Services Management, experienced in New England the kind of integration between health care and education that Thailand is working to achieve. Dr Tejativaddhana, who is Dean of Public Health at Thailand’s Naresuan University, was one of the 21-member delegation, which included two others from Naresuan University. He said that, during the study tour, he and his fellow delegates had observed the strength and flexibility of the Australian health system, paying particular attention to primary health care and the role of Medicare Locals.
He said that a major government focus in Thailand was on the development of primary health care and the human resources to support it, and pointed out that UNE, too, had a mission to train doctors, social workers and nurses for work in rural areas.
Professor Peter McKeown, Head of the School of Rural Medicine at UNE, said that the study tour marked a broadening of the relationship between UNE and the Thai health service. “We’re all keen to build that relationship,” Professor McKeown said.
The delegates saw – and were impressed by – a recording of a joint class in medical simulation between UNE and the University of California, Irvine, using the synchronous videoconferencing capacity of high-speed broadband. “UNE has established strong international links in medical simulation with UC Irvine in the United Sates,” said Professor Victor Minichiello, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of UNE’s Faculty of The Professions, “and we are now talking with partners in Thailand and Argentina so that our students and staff can exchange clinical experiences at a global level.”
Other members of the delegation included Professor Paichit Pawabutr (a former Permanent Secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health), Dr Weerawat Phancrut (Deputy Secretary General of Thailand’s National Health Security Office), Dr Chonlada Busayarat (member of the Royal Thai College of Family Practitioners), Dr Peerasak Lerttrakarnnon (Deputy Head of the Department of Family Medicine at Chiang Mai University), Professor Winit Phuapradit (Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok), four other senior staff members of Ramathibodi Hospital, representatives of two regional hospitals, and five GP trainees.
The study tour program included a day and a half at Tamworth Hospital, a visit to health care centres in Tamworth and Manilla, and two-and-a-half days at UNE in the School of Rural Medicine and the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, where they attended presentations on continuing medical education, Indigenous health, and the use of technology in medical education and general practice.
Clicking on the image displayed above reveals a photograph of (from left) Dr Phudit Tejativaddhana, Professor Peter McKeown, Dr Weerawat Phancrut, Professor Winit Phuapradit, and Dr David Briggs.