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Providing opportunities for medical students to experience life in the country

As part of their university curriculum, up to 200 medical students from Western Australian universities spend four days in towns across the Wheatbelt to learn about rural life.

The Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program (WMSIP) sees first-year medical students from The University of Notre Dame Australia School of Medicine (Fremantle) and second-year Curtin University Medical School students participate in a four-day placement across the Wheatbelt towns of Bruce Rock, Cunderdin, Dalwallinu, Kellerberin, Merredin, Moora, Narrogin, Corrigin, Southern Cross, Westonia and Wongan Hills.

The Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program has been developed in direct response to Western Australia’s acute doctor shortages.  With the majority of those shortages experienced in rural and regional areas, the Program has been identified to provide doctors with a first-hand experience of medicine in a rural community.

Rural Health West Chief Executive Officer, Tim Shackleton said the Program was developed in an effort to shift student perceptions about rural medicine early in their studies.

“People are attracted to rural medicine as it offers a broad scope of practice, you can build lasting relationships with patients and can provide true primary care. However, here in regional Western Australia, we struggle to attract home-grown doctors and have the heaviest reliance on overseas-trained medical graduates to care for rural communities compared to other States,” Tim said.

“Studies show a link between early exposure to rural medicine and a willingness to practice medicine in a rural location.  This program offers students a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in rural medicine and to truly understand the challenges and needs of remotely located communities,” he added.

Wheatbelt shires were instrumental in developing the Program in collaboration with universities.  The immersion experience will include three circuits covering the entire Wheatbelt (Central Wheatbelt, Southern Wheatbelt and Eastern Wheatbelt) with students remaining in their respective circuits for the duration of the Program.  They will visit a number of hospitals, health services, GPs and primary schools.

Up to 75 rural families host the medical students each year, offering them insight into their lives including first-hand experience with the challenge of accessing medical care in their community.

Merredin resident Sally Taylor is one of the hosts.

“I think it’s really important to support and nurture these future doctors and give them a really positive experience of country life,” Sally said.

“They’ll also get some insight into what a rural health service involves and get an appreciation of the challenges we can face accessing some health services. I believe it will make them well-rounded doctors even if they don’t return to the country to work.”

“It would be fantastic if these students chose to work as rural GPs in the future.  Many will end up working in a city-based specialty, and this experience will give them insight into the tests and limitations facing their rural patients which will only benefit treatment plans and patient care,” Mr Tim Shackleton said.

During the four days, students participate in a range of activities including:

    • Visit to the local hospital and medical practices
    • Hold teddy bear clinics with students at the local primary school
    • Conduct health Pit Stops in conjunction with the local GP
    • Visit the Rural Clinical Schools at Northam or Narrogin
    • Visit the local high school or agricultural college
    • Participate in an activity which ‘gives back’ to the community
    • Attend a farm safety demonstration
    • Attend a wrap-up community ‘thank you’ dinner

The Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program is a collaboration between the Notre Dame and Curtin University, Rural Health West, WA Primary Health Alliance and the Wheatbelt East Regional Organisation of Councils (WE-ROC).


“We acknowledge many of the students will become metropolitan doctors in the future, however this program will give them an understanding of what a country patient experiences when travelling to Perth for treatment. If a student is influenced by the program to consider a rural career, that will be the cherry on top.”

Professor Donna Mak, The University of Notre Dame Australia (Fremantle)


Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program 2024




Steering Committee members

    • Rural Health West
    • The University of Notre Dame Australia
    • Curtin University Faculty of Sciences
    • Wheatbelt East Regional Organisation of Councils (WE-ROC)
    • The Rural Clinical School of WA



Can you host a student for the 2022 Wheatbelt Medical Student Immersion Program?

The Program will next be held Tuesday 20 to Friday 23 September 2022. If you live in or around one of the ten Wheatbelt towns involved and would be interested in hosting a student, please contact us here or click on the image below for further information.

Acknowledgement of Country