Rural Clinical School of WA
Why get involved?
As a leading and competitive health education program, only 25% of eligible UWA, Curtin and Notre Dame medical students can participate each year. As with city-based students, those in the program must adhere to rigorous standards and achieve at least comparable results, while gaining increased practical experience. Our students find the program enriching, both professionally and personally, with rural communities and students continually giving positive feedback on the benefits.
The curriculum you are taught will depend on where you are placed. Many students in the program get involved with local sporting teams or volunteer their time at charity organisations and emergency services. The community spirit is strong in rural regions and RCSWA program participants take advantage of these experiences.
A day in the life of a rural doctor
Students are required to participate in workshops to develop the skills needed to administer medical attention to patients. Students in Esperance take part in a Procedural Workshop which involves airway management, suturing, catheterisation, joint aspiration, digital nerve blocks, cannulation and plastering.
Students and local volunteers simulate real life crisis situations in Narrogin, including a snake bike, an accident involving a vehicle, a quad bike rollover and a chemical burn.
The day was run really well with a number of stations mirroring what we may see in the hospital. Being able to adapt to the situation and practise our first aid skills was great.Medical student talking about the rural simulated environment exercise
Record intake of medical students to help WA's remote doctor shortage
The University of Western Australia has welcomed its largest intake of students from rural Western Australia this year into its Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences which will help WA's rural doctor shortage.Read more
Bunbury leads UWA rural medical students’ graduation
Last Saturday 60 rural students from 22 country towns, including 17 students from Bunbury, graduated from The University of Western Australia’s Medical School.Read more
The clinical and practical skills and knowledge of the people who had completed RCSWA were leaps and bounds ahead of the ones who hadn’t. GP registrar, Kununurra
Busselton welcomes boost from UWA medical students
Local health services have been injected with seven fresh faces eager to learn all about regional medicine.Read more
Scholarship keeps rural health in check
UWA medical student Emily Higham, from Williams, is making her mark in WA’s rural health scene, and she hasn’t even finished her medical studies. Ms Higham won a HESTA — Rural Health Workforce Australia scholarship to attend the National Rural Health Conference in Cairns at the end of the month.Read more
Doctor of Medicine
The Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree is a four-year, full-time professional degree course. Students in their third year of this degree are eligible to apply for the RCSWA program.
When to apply
Students from UWA and Notre Dame who are undertaking the second year of the MD degree can apply for the RCSWA.
Curtin students in their third year can apply for placement to undertake the fourth year of their degree in one of 15 RCSWA rural sites.
Students undergoing financial hardship may be eligible for a Hardship Bursary. The application deadline for this is mid-February each year, with a specific deadline communicated via email in January. Late applications are considered throughout the year.
Students applying for the Hardship Bursary should make an appointment with their Academic Services Officer, who will be able to provide more information on what can be reasonably accepted as hardship as well as helping source part-time work.
These specialisations examine the key ideas behind teaching, research and practice philosophy. A community of practice enhances the courses, with fortnightly video-conferencing and skill sharing among postgraduates.
- Rural Health
A rural health specialisation focuses less on a specialisation in a particular medical field, and more on exposing students to a diverse range of medical scenarios. This integrated teaching method allows students to acquire clinical skills in history-taking, clinical reasoning and diagnosis.
- Aboriginal Health
Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can provide some of the most rewarding experiences for medical students and doctors. With a placement in a rural area, you gain cultural and social experience that is hugely beneficial, helping to shape your future career.
The RCSWA focuses its research on health issues relevant to rural and remote communities, in particular those which cannot be explored in a city environment.
We aim for real possibilities of better health outcomes within our communities that are spread across vast distances and yet connected through the School’s infrastructure and staff.
We value our strengths in research across diverse cultures, life stages and diseases. Projects include improving the quality of preventive health programs by trialling new programs and evaluating their effectiveness; improving screening for diseases by trialling new screening protocols; and improving the quality of primary health care by evaluating health services.
Our particular skills are in engaging diverse rural and Aboriginal communities with the health issues that they feel are most important, translating findings back into best care, and in building a rurally-based, broadly skilled health researcher workforce.
We foster collaborations with groups who have relevant expertise, with the expectation that our skills and community relationships will support feasible and meaningful research.
The School encourages collaborations between sites and with other rural clinical schools. The School’s researchers regularly collaborate with Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), a regional Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS), providing a collective voice and health support for Kimberley towns and remote communities. The overarching aim of the School’s research in the Kimberley is to improve and promote the health and well-being of Aboriginal people in remote Australia through the application of practical community and health service based research.
We promote a culture of collegiality and mentorship within our School. We foster up-skilling in research of all interested medical coordinators, and collaborations between early researchers or students and those with more established careers. The School has four research hubs at Broome, Bunbury, Kalgoorlie and Albany. These hubs support smaller sites with their research in different surrounding regions.
The RCSWA supports the annual presentation of our research within the School, and at conferences and in the peer-reviewed literature.
Our research disciplines
Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is a largely preventable disease that involves a significant burden on individuals and communities. The current obesogenic and diabetes-promoting environments have a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged groups, including the development of diabetes at a younger age. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have higher rates of T2DM than other Australians do in all age groups, with larger differences in younger age groups – a time when the onset of diabetes is associated with earlier progression to serious health complications.
Avoiding the intergenerational consequences of diabetes in pregnancy where possible is also important. Screening for gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) can potentially lead to improved obstetric outcomes for women with GDM.
- ORCHID Study: Predicting gestational diabetes mellitus in rural communities
While Australian guidelines recommend an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) on all pregnant women to screen for GDM, we have reported on difficulties in completing the OGTT in rural Western Australia (WA). This project is investigating alternative methods for diagnosing GDM or alternative methods for screening that lead to a reduction in the number of OGTTs. We want to see if levels of glycation products such as HbA1c at first and third trimester antenatal visit predict the risk of developing GDM later in pregnancy or can be used instead of OGTT where an OGTT is difficult to achieve or refused by the patient.
This project is a collaboration between RCSWA, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services, WA Country Health Services – Kimberley, Harry Perkins Institute, PathWest and is funded in part through an RCSWA Multi-site Project Grant, Lishman Health Foundation grant and Diabetes Australia grant.
- Prevention of type 2 diabetes amongst young Aboriginal people in Derby, Western Australia
The primary prevention of T2DM though lifestyle modification, for people who may have pre-diabetes and for communities in general, is considered to be a beneficial approach. In this project, under the guidance of Derby Aboriginal Health Service (DAHS), young people in Derby will be actively involved in developing and implementing an intervention to support lifestyle changes with a view to preventing T2DM. The overall aim of this PhD project is to contribute to the prevention of type 2 diabetes amongst young people in Derby through supporting healthy lifestyle changes.
Contact PhD candidate Kimberley Seear for more information.
- Kimberley Investigation and Description of type 2 Diabetes of Young-onset (KIDDY)
The number of people being diagnosed with young onset diabetes is increasing around Australia, particularly in Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander youth. This is concerning because young-onset diabetes has been shown to be a more aggressive version of diabetes than the later-onset type, and is associated with earlier progression to complications. Importantly, there are things that can be done, which can prevent or slow down the onset of these complications. This project will describe the current situation of young-onset diabetes in the Kimberley and identifying best practice screening guidelines for young-onset diabetes in our region.
Contact project leader Dr Sally Singleton for more information.
- Understanding lived experiences for Aboriginal people with type 2 diabetes living in remote Kimberley communities
This project explores the experiences of Kimberley Aboriginal people with type 2 diabetes (T2DM) managed by remote Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services. Together with clinical data and expert opinion from local Aboriginal Health Workers (AHWs), we aim to use this to develop strategies to improve diabetes management in the Kimberley.
Improving health services
The School’s research team has extensive experience in evaluating rural and remote primary health care services. By embedding research into health services and including health service providers as core members of the research team, we are better able to determine what information is required by these services to help them improve their services.
- Improving mental health screening for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pregnant women and mothers of young children
Mental health during and after pregnancy is important for the wellbeing of mother and infant. Aboriginal women in remote Australia have high levels of anxiety and depression, which can have significant short- and long-term impacts on both mother and child. The need for a culturally safe screening tool to identify women at risk of anxiety and depression led to the development of the Kimberley Mum’s Mood Scale (KMMS). The two-part KMMS was designed to be administered by providers of perinatal care: Part 1 is a Kimberley version of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS); Part 2 is a psychosocial tool.
The next step for Kimberley health services is to increase and improve KMMS screening in pregnancy and postnatally, and address identified mental health issues. Project staff will work closely with Kimberley services to find out how the KMMS can best be implemented into routine practice in each service.
In partnership with health services and Aboriginal communities in northern WA and Far North Queensland, this project will also adapt the KMMS and develop locally appropriate versions for participating partners as required; evaluate the real-world performance of KMMS in the Kimberley and other remote regions in northern Australia; and evaluate the process of implementation.
Contact Research Fellow and PhD candidate Emma Carlin for more information.
- Accessing health care at a remote WA Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service: Pilot Study
The emphasis of Derby Aboriginal Health Service (DAHS) is on Aboriginal health, preventive health, remote health, primary care and chronic disease management. The service has a Chief Executive Officer and is run by a board of local Aboriginal people. The buildings and infrastructure of the service have been designed to be appealing and accessible to Aboriginal people. DAHS should be the most accessible form of healthcare available for Aboriginal people in Derby and surrounding communities. In practice, however, DAHS finds it difficult to initiate and maintain relationship with many people. Anecdotally the group that is most difficult to access is the 16- to 25-year-old age group. DAHS would like to know why this is so.
This project will document the utilisation of healthcare services at DAHS by 16- to 25-year-olds and identify the barriers and enablers of access for 16- to 25-year-olds.
Contact project leader Dr Susannah Warwick for more information.
- The NINI HELTHIWAN project: Improving Primary Care for Aboriginal mothers and babies in the Kimberley region
Providing quality healthcare for pregnant women and young children in remote areas is both vitally important and challenging. We are conducting three inter-related research projects [ORCHID, KMMS, Nini] that will contribute to the development of a regional enhanced model of primary healthcare for Aboriginal pregnant women and mothers of young children. Nini regional midwife coordinators helped improve the support of primary care providers who are caring for Aboriginal mothers through a peer led process [telephone assistance, email, clinic visits]. This project used a randomised stepped wedge cluster design to provide this extra support.
Contact project leader Professor David Atkinson for more information.
- Family Planning in the Western Desert
Access to family planning is an important human right, necessary to achieve optimal sexual health. Family planning needs vary between communities and individuals, and an understanding of the attitudes, beliefs and values of a community is vital in the provision of effective and acceptable family planning services. There has been a significant focus over the last two decades on sexually transmissible infections in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Contraception has received less attention but remains an important issue. This mixed method project aims to review data relating to contraception and family planning in a remote area of the Kimberley region.
Contact PhD candidate Emma Griffiths for more information.
- Improving the quality of end of life care in the Great Southern region
The main focus of the School’s research program in the Great Southern region is in improving the quality of end of life care. A regionally-based research team consisting of a palliative care physician (Assoc Prof. Kirsten Auret), the rural health research fellow (Dr Craig Sinclair), academic GP registrars and research nurses work in collaboration with external researchers, and coordinate projects relevant to the local region. The research focus is translational, meaning that in addition to generating new knowledge, the research team is focused on finding practical ways to embed research findings into local policy and practice, to improve the quality of end of life care.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a significant health problem within Australia; accounting for almost $900 million in healthcare expenditure in 2004-05. Rates of detected CKD in remote WA continue to increase. Within Australia, rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are some of the most significantly affected by CKD. This is reflected by higher incidence rates of CKD within this population, particularly end-stage kidney disease where renal replacement therapy is required to sustain life. Our kidney disease research includes looking at risk factors affecting the development of kidney disease, and evaluating health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients on dialysis.
- The Western Desert Kidney Health Project
- This project is a multidisciplinary team of Aboriginal health, medical and community development workers and artists with the aim of reducing kidney disease and diabetes by 20 per cent in 10 Indigenous communities representing six language groups. The project covers an area about the size of Victoria and populated by almost 4,000 people whose expected lifespan is 17 years less than that of non-Aboriginal people. Contributing factors in this reduced life expectancy are kidney disease and diabetes. Visit the project’s website to explore this research further.
- Kalgoorlie – Administrative Headquarters
Kalgoorlie is the main administrative hub for the RCSWA. The office is a purpose-designed modern office on the hospital site.
Students stay at one of three fully furnished and well-appointed homes within one kilometre of the hospital and offices.
RCSWA students are placed in the hospital, at a general practice or with the Aboriginal Medical Service. They also have the opportunity of placements with other health providers in the region.
Kalgoorlie Health Campus features 93 beds, with units including emergency, mental health, paediatrics, operating suites, medical, surgery, dialysis, day ward, chemotherapy, outpatients and visiting specialists.
Find out more about Kalgoorlie placements by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Urban Centre
Our Urban Centre serves as a point of contact for current, prospective and past students. It is at the QEII Medical Centre in Perth. To contact our Urban Centre, email email@example.com.
Our Albany office is in the town centre within the UWA Science Building of our Albany campus. Two comfortable and fully furnished student houses are located close to the campus and a six-minute drive from town.
The new Albany Health Campus provides health services to more than 55,000 Great Southern residents. Specialists and units include general surgery, emergency medicine, obstetrics, psychiatrists and more.
Find out more about Albany placements by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Broome is one of the most popular placements, and serves as a gateway to the Kimberley region. Our Broome office is co-located with the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS). Students stay at one of two fully furnished, four-bedroom houses 8 kilometres from the hospital and 6 kilometres from the office and town.
Broome Hospital has 36 beds, including six nursing home beds. It caters for medical, surgical, paediatric and maternity services, as well as emergency care. Local specialists are on hand to mentor students, with other specialists visiting often.
KAMS provides a teaching campus for Aboriginal health workers and medical students, as well as a 10 station haemodialysis unit as part of the Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service.
There are two private practices in Broome, as well as hospital GPs and GP registrars. Broome has a resident general surgeon, physician, psychiatric registrar, psychiatrists, as well as obstetric and anaesthetic specialists.
Find out more about Broome placements by emailing email@example.com.
Students live in three four-bedroom homes in College Grove, Bunbury, a five-minute walk to the South West Health Campus, and seven kilometres from the town centre.
Both public and private hospitals in Bunbury are located at the South West Health Campus, sharing an emergency department. The St John of God Medical Centre features suites for radiology, pathology and for local and visiting specialists.
Bunbury Regional Hospital has 103 inpatient beds consisting of six wards: surgical, acute psychiatric, medical, maternity, paediatrics, and a high dependency unit. There is also a Primary Health Division providing physiotherapy, speech pathology, incontinence care, occupational therapy, dietetics, diabetes care and social work.
St John of God Health Care offers 120 beds for maternity, surgery, oncology, renal care and palliative care.
Find out more about Bunbury placements by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have two four-bedroom, fully furnished and equipped student houses available in Busselton, five kilometres from the town centre.
Students placed in Busselton are required to travel between Margaret River, Dunsborough and Bunbury so will need to have their own transport.
Students spend five sessions per week rotating through the Busselton District Hospital or one of six practices located in the surrounding regions. Busselton District Hospital provides emergency, day surgery, a hospice, renal dialysis, radiology, anaesthetics, two theatres and two birth suites.
Find out more about Busselton placements by contacting email@example.com.
Students in Carnarvon have 24-hour access for the use of IT equipment and video-conferencing facilities. The student house is a 10-minute walk to the town centre.
Carnarvon Regional Hospital is staffed by six District Medical Officers and a Senior Medical Officer who provide 24-hour emergency, anaesthetic and obstetric cover.
A range of specialists visit on a regular basis. Carnarvon Medical Centre and Aboriginal Medical Services are located within walking distance from the hospital.
Find out more about Carnarvon placements by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Derby is a town of about 4500 people, half of whom are Indigenous Australians representing three different language groups. Located 2354km north of Perth, Derby Regional Hospital caters to local residents and surrounding areas with emergency, maternity, surgical and paediatric care. We provide a four-bedroom, fully furnished house for students, which is located close to the hospital.
The Derby Aboriginal Health Services (DAHS) runs preventative and public health programs, including maternal and child health, women's health, chronic disease and sexual health.
Derby Regional Hospital, DAHS and The Royal Flying Doctor Service run clinics in remote Aboriginal communities in the West Kimberley and beyond. Medical staff and students visit these communities to participate in the clinics.
Find out more about Derby placements by contacting email@example.com.
Our student house is a four-minute walk from Esperance District Hospital, the town centre, and a large sporting complex. The hospital provides 40 beds for emergency, obstetrics, general, surgical, palliative, paediatric and psychiatric admissions.
Local GPs are spread across four practices, teaching and mentoring RCSWA students in a range of skills including anaesthetics, surgery and obstetrics. There are also regular visiting specialists to Esperance.
Find out more about Esperance placements by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geraldton features three student units and one/two houses close to the Geraldton Regional Hospital. There are 42 private practitioners in Geraldton, four employed by the Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service, most of whom are involved in teaching students. There are also around 37 visiting specialists per month who happily dedicate their time to conducting tutorials and allowing students to attend their clinics.
St John of God Hospital, allied health services and Geraldton Regional Hospital provide students with a range of learning opportunities in emergency, surgical, paediatrics, maternity, gynaecological, psychiatric, vascular surgery, chemotherapy, renal dialysis, palliative and anaesthetic care.
Find out more about Geraldton placements by contacting email@example.com.
Our Karratha office is located close to the town centre, providing 24-hour access to simulation equipment, IT and office facilities. Students stay at a fully equipped five-bedroom house, a five-minute drive from Nickol Bay Hospital.
Nickol Bay Hospital, Sonic Health Plus and Karratha Medical Centre service the area and provide training opportunities to students. Students may also travel to Onslow Hospital, Wickham Primary Health Centre, and Mawarnkarra Aboriginal Medical Service at Roebourne.
Students in Karratha can gain clinical experience in accident and emergency, surgical, maternity and general medicine. Specialists visit often to provide outpatient services.
Find out more about Karratha placements by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kununurra's population consists of a high percentage of young Aboriginal adults. A Kununurra placement gives students the opportunity to see a diverse range of patients, and they may find themselves the very first person to assess them.
Students have 24-hour access to the RCSWA administrative and teaching centre for the use of office facilities, the library and video-conferencing equipment.
Accommodation is a 10-minute drive from the office and town centre. The home is new, with four bedrooms, air-conditioning, internet and regular garden maintenance.
Kununurra District Hospital provides emergency, inpatient, obstetric, and some primary healthcare, whilst the Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service (OVAHS) provides most primary healthcare services. Most specialists visit both centres, and both centres provide outlying clinics which students are encouraged to attend.
Find out more about Kununurra placements email email@example.com.
The RCSWA administrative and teaching centre provides a modern space for lectures, tutorials, private study and recreation. Students can access the office facilities 24 hours a day.
Accommodation is located near the rear of the Narrogin Hospital and town centre. The house has five bedrooms (two with ensuites), a study, internet and is fully furnished and equipped. It's possible to get around Narrogin without a vehicle by making use of available bicycles, however there is ample parking should students decide to drive.
Narrogin Hospital services its immediate residents as well as the surrounding towns. A modern facility, it has an emergency department, obstetrics unit, paediatric unit, acute surgical/medical/psych unit, day surgery unit, and a cancer support and palliative care unit.
Narrogin has two general practices employing 12 GPs with skills in anaesthetics and obstetrics.
Find out more about Narrogin placements by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our student residence in Northam is located within walking distance of the main street. A four-bedroom spacious house, it comes fully equipped and with internet.
The RCSWA works closely with Northam Hospital as well as general practitioners and medical specialists in the regions close to Northam and Toodyay.
Primary health services such as Aboriginal health and aged care are provided, and specialists often visit Northam.
Find out more about Northam placements by contacting email@example.com.
- Port Hedland
Our RCSWA office is located in South Hedland, which is walking distance from the hospital. Student housing is opposite the racecourse in two adjacent, modern three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouses.
Port Hedland Regional Hospital provides 50 acute beds catering for medical, surgical, paediatric, and obstetrics and gynaecology. There are about 300 deliveries per year.
Attached to the hospital is Yulanya, offering up to 25 beds. The hospital has eight full-time GPs, two registrars, two interns and seven resident specialists.
There are three GP practices in town. Resident specialists include a general surgeon, radiologist, anaesthetist, two physicians, a paediatrician and an obstetrician/gynaecologist.
Find out more about Port Hedland placements by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Warren Blackwood
The Warren-Blackwood RCSWA office is located on Bridgetown’s main street, nestled between lovely cafes and the memorial park. The office is accessible 24hr a day and has internet, VC equipment and study rooms.
Accommodation is a spacious fully furnished 4 bedroom house which sits on an acre, overlooking the Bridgetown agricultural show ground.
The Bridgetown hospital is a 1 min walk from the house and the office is only a km away.
Students at this placement will service Bridgetown, Boyup Brook, Balingup and Manjimup all within a 20 min drive. They will have access to 5 General Practices, Community Health, Aboriginal Health and 3 District Hospitals which between them cover obstetrics, emergency medicine, anaesthetics and an array of regular surgical lists with visiting specialist.
Find out more about Warren-Blackwood placements by contacting email@example.com.
I spent my RCSWA year in the Wheatbelt town of Narrogin. I had a wonderful time and found it to be a great clinical experience. Being at a small site meant there was continuity of care. I would see patients in GP, then in ED or the maternity ward and also with visiting specialists, which provided fantastic learning opportunities. The year allowed me to properly explore the role of a country GP and see just how diverse the job can be. Madeleine Gryta, RCSWA 2017, Narrogin