Hunting for boab nuts, vaccinating cattle, harvesting grapes and installing fence posts are not activities you would typically expect to see on the curriculum of a medical degree, however they form an important part of The University of Notre Dame Australia – Fremantle’s Kimberley Remote Area Health Placement Program. Founded in 2006, the unique program gives medical students an opportunity to engage with and learn from local people to inform the care they provide once they start of practise medicine.
The University of Notre Dame students, who are in the second year of their medical degree, spend five days living and working alongside west Kimberley people.
In 2023, the students spent several days of their visit as a group in Derby, where they attended the Derby Rodeo, enjoyed a marsh bonfire, participated in cultural education and local recreational activities, such as fishing, painting and attending a rodeo.
University of Notre Dame Domain Chair Population and Preventive Health, School of Medicine, Professor Donna Mak said the Kimberley placement aims to provide an opportunity for the students to work in a meaningful way, in non-clinical settings to experience life in rural and remote areas.
“The Kimberley placement is one of the University’s strategies aimed at graduating doctors who will contribute to rural and remote health care,” Donna said.
“We hope the placement will broaden the students’ thinking about Australia’s diversity and challenge their ideas about health and healthcare.”
Over the years, this program has had a direct impact with a number Notre Dame students choosing to move to the Kimberley to complete their penultimate year of medical school with The Rural Clinical School of WA, undertake their final year of studies in a rural location, take up post-graduate opportunities in the bush, and some have moved to the Kimberley permanently.
“Many previous students have cited the experience as a highlight of their medical education and that it has directly influenced their decision to work in the Kimberley or in rural medicine.
“Others have commented that it guides their work when dealing with rural and remote patients, particularly when discharging them from metropolitan hospitals or when caring for palliative care patients from the bush,” she said.
The experience forms a vital part of the student’s medical education and seeks to give them a true appreciation of the challenges and highlights of living in the Kimberley, and the spirit and resilience of the people who live in some of the remote locations in Australia.
The program aims to encourage recruitment and retention of doctors in remote WA and educate future city doctors to be empathetic and responsive to the needs of country people.
This video captures their experience and explores how the program is encouraging young doctors to seek careers in the bush.