All Australian medical students do a rural rotation, whether for 4 weeks or a few years. The advice below has been extracted from various articles offering advice for students on how to make the most of their rural rotation. Although the applicability will depend on the length of your rotation, much of this advice is relevant no matter how long your term is.
The Benefits of a Rural Placement:
You’ll witness some of the differences between rural and metropolitan health care. For example, rural health care workers may have limited access to some equipment and resources. This fosters a more innovative and flexible approach to the provision of patient care. Also, the wider variety of tasks performed by rural health professionals demonstrates to students the importance of teamwork, flexibility and an increased range of skills.
You’ll gain a deeper awareness of some of the sociocultural issues present in rural communities. Working in an Indigenous health care setting demonstrates first-hand the disparity between Indigenous and nonindigenous patient health outcomes.
Students often report an increased sense of confidence in clinical skills and knowledge following a rural rotation. This is in part because students are often given greater responsibilities and autonomy
Rural towns often have smaller, close-knit medical communities, and so students develop a stronger professional network with other staffs. Many students report that they become known as a name, rather than a student number when they do a rural placement.
Living costs in rural areas are usually cheaper, and the commute to hospital and class is often a lot shorter!
The Difficulties associated with a Rural Placement:
This may occur as a result of moving away from family, friends, partner, and other regular support structures. It can also be hard for some students to break into close-knit rural communities.
It may be too difficult or costly to travel home to see friends and family as regularly as you’d like.
Many rural hospitals do not have the highly specialised areas that large tertiary hospitals do, so if your area of interest is neonatal brain surgery, you probably won’t be able to do it during your rural placement.
How to make the most of the placement and maintain a life-work balance
Learn about the community: contact the Tourist Information Centre (they often have free maps and community information brochures) or search the internet. Find out about the size of the population, climate, the demographics of the town, and what other health services are available.
Activities and Events
Some of the greatest benefits of doing a rural placement are not found in the hospital – get involved in the community! Go out and join in community events and meetings, sporting activities, markets, clubs while you are there. Accept social invitations from colleagues and people that you meet outside of work. Take time to explore the local area.
When doing a rural placement in a very small, isolated town, or where there is a significant difference in population demographic to what you are used to, it may be beneficial to prepare by learning some of the differences in cultural values, customs and language.
Seek out Indigenous Health Workers and Aboriginal Liaison Officers if appropriate and ask for their advice if you have any questions regarding Indigenous customs in your area.
How to ensure you don’t become isolated
Keep in contact with your friends and family.
Many phone service providers offer deals such as free phone calls after 6pm to other phones with the same provider.
Skype is cheap! Many libraries offer free or cheap internet. Ask your hospital/health service whether they have internet available to you.
Book flights well in advance to find cheap flights, or car-pool with people to reduce the cost of petrol when driving to see family or friends.
Keep to a similar routine that you usually would. If you normally go for walks in the mornings or have a lazy Sunday brunch dates, maintain these activities!
Exercise, eat healthily and sleep well.
Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.
Keep a journal of your experiences.
Find out who the other students doing your rural placement are. It’s a great idea to connect with other people who are going through the same experience of moving to a new place. Arrange to meet up and discuss what you’ve found enjoyable, easy or difficult. This way you can help each other to settle into the new environment.
We encourage you to have a look at the full articles listed below for further excellent advice
Author Dr Peter Vine
Head of Campus, University of New South Wales Albury-Wodonga Rural Clinical School
Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Community Health, Charles Sturt University
Regional Advisory Board of La Trobe University, Albury Wodonga Campus