Medical students get a taste of what the Wheatbelt has to offer during regional tour

More than 170 medical students from the University of Notre Dame and Curtin University have visited the Wheatbelt as part of a program designed to address a state-wide regional doctor shortage.

With shortages experienced in rural and regional areas, the program provides doctors with a first-hand experience of medicine in a rural community.

Over four days, medical students immersed themselves in rural life working with local families across eight Wheatbelt towns – Bruce Rock, Corrigin, Cunderdin, Kellerberrin, Merredin, Narrogin, Southern Cross and Westonia – to learn about the realities and daily challenges faced by regionally located families.

Rural Health West chief executive 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," he said.

"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.

“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.

“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."

Around 75 rural families hosted the medical students.

During the four days, students visited the local hospitals and medical practices, attended farm safety demonstrations and conducting health pit stops.

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