Grafton Base Hospital. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner
Grafton Base Hospital. Photo Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner Debrah Novak

University to establish Clarence medical training program

MEDICAL training in the Clarence Valley is set to expand with the University of Wollongong (UOW) establishing a Regional Training Hub under a recently-announced federal government program.

The UOW Medicine School was selected to set up the new training hub in partnership with the University of Sydney (USYD) the Northern NSW Local Health District.

The training hubs are aimed at attracting and retaining medical graduates for the country by maximising local training opportunities for medical trainees and junior doctors, rather than them having to relocate to capital cities to become qualified.

The initiative is part of the federal government's $54.4 million Integrated Rural Training Pipeline program, recently announced by Assistant Minister for Health, the Hon. Dr David Gillespie MP, which creates three new university Departments of Rural Health and 26 Regional Training Hubs across Australia over three years.

The hub will play a vital coordination role, connecting local clinicians, education and training providers, health service staff, and the broader community to set up and manage all the arrangements required to enable local doctors to do more of their training locally.

Northern NSW Local Health District Chief Executive, Mr Wayne Jones, welcomed the announcement.

"The establishment of a Regional Training Hub builds on existing training capabilities at the Grafton Base Hospital and other Northern NSW LHD facilities, making it a great step forward for our medical workforce in the Clarence Valley.

"The additional resources delivered by this program will boost the opportunities available for junior medical officers to complete more of their training in this region.

"We already have a strong relationship with the University of Wollongong. They have an excellent reputation for training medical students and we have a great reputation for providing quality clinical placements in a regional setting.

"This new funding will allow more GPs, junior doctors and specialists to be trained right here in the Clarence district," Mr Jones said.

UOW has a strong focus on attracting its medical school students with strong connections to rural and regional settings, having previously lived, studied or worked in the bush and producing graduates with the skills and desire to work rural, regional or remote communities.

It has been placing medical students in the Clarence Valley region for 12-month clinical placements since 2009, with the majority of them choosing to live and work in regional areas after graduating.

UOW Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health and Pro Vice-Chancellor Health Strategy, Professor Alison Jones, welcomed the federal government's commitment to local specialist medical training.

"We have enjoyed a positive relationship with the Northern NSW Local Health District, local hospitals and the University of Sydney for many years and we look forward to deepening those relationships as we expand from educating medical trainees into training junior doctors to become specialists without them having to leave the region," Professor Jones said.

"Having established our medicine school 10 years ago specifically to train doctors for challenging but rewarding rural, regional and remote settings, we understand the importance of maintaining a close connection to those communities throughout the medical training journey."

UOW Graduate Medicine is the only medical school in Australia giving all students the opportunity to undertake a 12-month longitudinal clinical placement in a rural, regional or remote setting in one of 11 regional NSW communities stretching from the Northern Rivers, where UOW already partners with USYD and Western Sydney University, to the South Coast and west to Broken Hill.

Some UOW students also have opportunities with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and up to six placements are offered in an Aboriginal Medical Service.

Planning and stakeholder consultation has already begun, with the regional training hub expected to be established and operating from the latter half of 2017.