Universities combine to improve rural health services

Professor John Prins, Head of the University of Melbourne Medical School signing the MOU, pictured with Professor Alister Ward – Associate Head of School (Research), Deakin University, Dr Susan Waller – Senior Lecturer, Rural Nursing and Allied Health Lead, Monash Rural Health
Professor John Prins, Head of the University of Melbourne Medical School signing the MOU, pictured with Professor Alister Ward, Associate Head of School (Research) at Deakin University and Dr Susan Waller, Senior Lecturer, Rural Nursing and Allied Health Lead at Monash Rural Health

Rural health strategies, Indigenous programs and nursing and allied health training placements will benefit from a formal collaboration between the University Departments of Rural Health at Melbourne, Monash and Deakin universities.

Launched at the University of Melbourne’s Ballarat Rural Clinical School on 25 June, the new partnership enables the universities to share resources, training and accommodation to improve student experience and community outcomes.

Currently each University Department of Rural Health (UDRH) program covers different regions – the University of Melbourne in Shepparton, Wangaratta and Ballarat; Monash in Bendigo, Mildura and Gippsland; and Deakin in Warrnambool and Hamilton.

Together, the three UDRH ‘footprints’ cover most of rural Victoria and facilitate education, research and workforce development across the state.

The formal Memorandum of Understanding will see the universities work collaboratively, share resources efficiently and jointly advocate for improved training, research and better rural health outcomes across country Victoria.

For example, if a student from one university is placed in an area covered by another, both will cooperate to ensure the student is supported.

State-wide initiatives will also be developed in priority areas such as mental health and Indigenous health.

Monash Rural Health Rural Nursing and Allied Lead Susan Waller said the move signalled a maturity in the programs and opportunities for future growth.

“It will enable bigger, better, more efficient and more effective rural health strategies to be implemented across the state,” Dr Waller said.

University of Melbourne UDRH Director Lisa Bourke agreed.

“Our programs support the existing rural health workforce, train the next generation of rural health practitioners and develop new and innovative approaches to workforce development, recruitment and retention,” Professor Bourke said.

“We have always been supportive of each other but now we actively seek to work together.”

Deakin UDRH Director Vincent Versace said his university supported student placements in small towns where accommodation could be lacking, and educators were thin on the ground.

“We support students to go out to these small rural services, use their skills and contribute to the health service in positive ways,” Associate Professor Versace said.

Teams from each UDRH program will meet to discuss how to achieve a working partnership that best supports student learning, shared accommodation and ensures quality placements across Victoria.

Research teams also will meet to develop state-side projects to support psychology, nursing, social work and other mental health disciplines in rural Victoria and build upon workforce development approaches and strategies for Indigenous health.

The collaboration was launched at 10am on Tuesday, 25 June, at ‘Dunvegan’, the University of Melbourne, Department of Rural Health, 806 Mair St, Ballarat.