Hundreds of students studying to be doctors, nurses, midwives and allied health professionals head to Coffs Harbour every year for part of their training, creating jobs, boosting local investment and increasing access to health professionals for local patients.
Through the NSW Nationals in the federal government’s Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) Program, students are exposed to many of the unique challenges facing rural patients, while experiencing the benefits of living and working on the mid-North Coast.
Federal Nationals Member for Cowper, Pat Conaghan and Regional Health Minister, Dr David Gillespie have visited the Coffs Harbour Rural Clinical School, operated by the University of New South Wales (UNSW), to meet students and staff.
Mr Conaghan said he was proud to be part of a government that recognised the benefits of rural medical training and the challenges associated with the health workforce maldistribution.
“UNSW receives more than $28 million from the Commonwealth for its RHMT activities across a number of sites, including Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie, to give more students the opportunity to train in the regions and create local jobs,” Mr Conaghan said.
“This funding has a double benefit; students undertake part of their medical training here and in turn it creates jobs for local medical and administrative staff.
“The clinical school in Coffs Harbour has 16 local staff, who supported more than 50 students to complete 12-month long medical placements last year.”
Dr Gillespie – who spent 10 years as Director of Physician Training at Port Macquarie Base Hospital – said the RHMT program encouraged more health professionals to practise in the bush.
“RHMT is a win-win-win for the students, the patients who can access care, and for the host communities,” Dr Gillespie said.
“There are valuable social and economic benefits, with support for local businesses through procurement of goods and services and job opportunities.
“It has been demonstrated that for every dollar spent under the RHMT program, another dollar is generated in the local economy.”
Mr Conaghan said in addition to the Rural Clinical School, UNSW’s Mid North Coast Regional Training Hub is based in Coffs Harbour, and employs seven academic and administrative staff.
“UNSW has partnered with local health organisations through the hub to assist and develop regional training pathways, support accreditation of training posts to meet community needs and improve the retention of medical trainees in the area,” he said.
Mr Conaghan said Federal Government investment also meant that around 100 medical placements were able to occur in Port Macquarie last year through UNSW’s Rural Clinical School in Port Macquarie, which employs 39 local staff.
The RHMT program also provides funding to the University of Newcastle (UoN) to operate a Department of Rural Health in Coffs Harbour. This campus enabled several medical students to undertake five-week placements during the previous academic year in Coffs Harbour.
Last year, 120 nursing, midwifery and allied health students took part in this program, equating to over 800 training weeks undertaken locally.
21 universities are currently participating in the RHMT program across Australia.
Dr Gillespie said by investing in the RHMT program, the NSW Nationals in the federal government are highlighting the professional and personal benefits of practising in regional, rural and remote communities.
“And while the RHMT program provides short placements, there are many long-term gains, as more graduates head back to the bush to care for local communities,” Dr Gillespie said.