First students welcomed in new Murray Darling rural medical program

Medical students with medical dummy/mannequin
The new program provides seven years of training through La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne at three Victorian regional centres.

Following strong national interest and a rigorous recruitment process, 15 regional and rural students have been selected to commence a unique end-to-end rural medical program designed to help solve Australia’s rural doctor shortage.

This innovative new program will provide seven years of training, involving two universities – La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne – and three regional centres in Victoria.

Students who successfully complete a three-year undergraduate Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Medical) course at La Trobe’s Bendigo or Albury-Wodonga campus will gain guaranteed entry into the University of Melbourne’s Doctor of Medicine postgraduate program in Shepparton.

The program is the first in a series of programs funded by the Federal Government under the banner of the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network (MDMSN) and has been created to address chronic shortages of doctors in regional and rural areas by training students from the regions, in the regions.

The selection process targeted students with rural backgrounds who demonstrated a commitment to seeking a career in the rural health workforce. Those students who received an offer are from areas including Mildura, Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, Kyneton, Cohuna and Griffith (NSW).

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor John Dewar congratulated the first cohort of students to be offered a place in the new degree program, saying they have the ability to make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of those living in rural, regional and remote communities.

“Congratulations on being selected by La Trobe and the University of Melbourne into what is a unique initiative to tackling the age-old challenge of training and retaining more doctors in the bush,” Professor Dewar said.

“You have all demonstrated a deep understanding of and commitment to pursuing a career in rural medicine and I wish you all the very best as you progress through your studies and eventual careers.

“I’d also like to thank Federal Government, who have enabled this to happen, after persistently championing the need for a new approach to rural health.”

Professor John Prins, Head of the University of Melbourne Medical School said that rural and regional communities have identified an aspirational need; the recruitment and retention of a secure health workforce.

“The University of Melbourne also congratulates the students on being the first cohort to what should be an exciting and fulfilling pathway. In something as important as the training of the medical workforce, vision and leadership must be shared."

Minister for Regional Services and Decentralisation Senator Bridget McKenzie, who visited the Albury-Wodonga campus in December 2018 to announce $7 million Liberal and Nationals Government funding for the undergraduate course, welcomed the exciting news that the first intake of 15 students have been selected.

“The Liberal and Nationals Government is determined to provide better access to medical practitioners for people living in our rural areas,” Minister McKenzie said.

“These 15 students are about to embark on a rewarding journey to provide better access to medical services in their own community. They should feel extremely proud.

“That there was such strong interest in the course is proof rural and regional students have embraced the opportunity to study locally.

“We know that when locals study locally they stay and work locally.”

One of the new students, Srishti Chatterji, has lived her whole life in rural areas – including in India, Scotland and Australia. Now living in Griffith in NSW, she has a deep passion for improving health services in the bush.

“There is a real inequality between people living in rural locations, and those in cities, in terms of access to health services. I’d love to be part of changing that,” she said.

Srishti has a particular interest in educating regional communities on lifestyle diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay.

Following around 200 unique applications, successful students were co-selected by the two universities based on a mix of interview – 47 interviews were conducted in early January 2019 – and ATAR scores (the lowest offered Selection Rank was 89.05).