The Rural Clinical School of Western Australia (RCSWA) is celebrating 20 years of providing healthcare to people living in regional, rural and remote areas of the State.
The school was established to help rural communities sustain a locally trained and loyal medical workforce by placing medical students in country regions.
Head of School Dr Andrew Kirke, who trained as a GP in Kalgoorlie, took a position with RCSWA 16 years ago as it offered the complete package of teaching, practise and research.
“We have had significant success in changing the perception of both the medical students but also our colleagues about what is possible in rural areas,” Dr Kirke said.
“Students are going into the rural clinical school, getting fantastic experience and coming out more job ready. I think that's a major achievement and we are having an impact with more graduates starting to fill up the rural workforce in WA.”
The RCSWA is now a cooperative of three universities and has shown it is possible to have tertiary level education in some of the smallest towns in WA.
“The students are very visible – they are seen in the community, seen in the clinics and almost always it's a very positive story to have these young, energetic, bright people in town,” Dr Kirke said.
Historically doctors from overseas and interstate were recruited to work in rural and remote areas but moving forward Dr Kirke would like to see that shift so RCSWA becomes a self-sustaining system.
“Locally trained doctors are more likely to come on board as teachers. We already have graduates coming on staff as teachers for the next generation,” he said.
Immediate postgraduate pathways are also being developed so graduates can go straight into a full-year internship.
“As well as the training, we do a lot of mentoring postgrad and we're involved in advocating for creating these training pathways with the colleges, with the health department and with the GP training organisations,” Dr Kirke said.
“Albany, Bunbury, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie and Broome are taking students for two years and we've got 19 students this year at those five sites. We know from our research that 60 per cent of the students doing two years of study will go straight into intern positions locally.”
The RCSWA has a growing number of Aboriginal staff in professional roles including five in long-term positions in teaching and research and six casuals, as well as three Indigenous students, and are liaising with Aboriginal people and organisations about research priorities.
“We find out what outcomes they are seeking to achieve and build research programs from the ground up – it’s a lot of work but we're just starting to see some success,” Dr Kirke said.
Two research projects are already finding ways to improve health in regional and remote communities.
A project set up to protect the health of Aboriginal mothers and their families in rural communities by optimising the screening and management of hyperglycaemia in pregnancy received a $3.2 million funding boost from the Medical Research Future Fund.
Ways to bring fresh water to remote Aboriginal communities in the Goldfields are being investigated after Western Desert Kidney Health Project research found nitrate contaminated drinking water was a contributing factor to higher than expected rates of kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.
The vision for the future of RSCWA is to build on the successes of the past 20 years and foster a locally trained, research-driven, collegiate, academic and clinical community, providing equitable healthcare to rural and remote WA.