A workforce program is boosting the number of health professionals in the bush via the schoolyard.

Story By Ken Eastwood

Health students across the country are visiting hundreds of rural schools to inspire kids to think about careers in health as part of a long-term scheme aimed at solving the lack of medical practitioners in the bush. In the past year 400 students from 29 universities visited more than 200 schools, showing senior high-school students medical mannequins and other fun teaching tools, and giving them a chance to meet health students from a range of backgrounds.
The university students are studying various aspects of health, including occupational therapy, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, social work, physiotherapy, psychology and nursing. Helen Murray is a senior advisor of the Future Workforce program at Rural Health Workforce Australia and says the scheme, which has been running for more than 10 years, is definitely working. “We know of many examples where those face-to-face experiences with people studying health has caused others to consider a similar path,” she says. “The visits do have an impact. The health sector is growing as a total employment sector and we’re very proactively involved in raising awareness of career opportunities in rural health.”
Cassie Berto, from Katherine, NT, says she was inspired to take up nursing at James Cook University in Townsville as a result of one of the visits. “At first I was thinking about doing physiotherapy – it sounded really interesting – and then I met one of the other girls and she was doing nursing and it sounded more like me,” Cassie says.
Cassie is the first member of her family to go to university, and she received a Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship for Indigenous students. She has joined the Rural Health Club at uni so she can visit her old high school and hopefully inspire others to study health too. “I grew up in Katherine and I’m finding it difficult to be away for so long, but the uni is great,” she says. “They offer a lot of support.”
Like most health students who are recruited from the bush, Cassie hopes to return to her home town to work. Ideally, she’d like to do community nursing, working in geriatrics and paediatrics.

This Story is from Issue #88

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2013