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From a broom cupboard: 20 years of rural health at Monash University


As Vice Chancellor of Monash University, I congratulate the School of Rural Health on a stunning 20 years of growth and commitment to improving rural health.

My first interaction with the Monash University Centre for Rural Health was through its Primary Care Clinic in Bendigo. I was a visiting neurologist and practised from a room at the clinic once a week. I was impressed that the clinic provided much needed bulk-billed primary care services to a relatively large proportion of the local population who, because of the shortage of general practitioners, could not get in to see a regular general practitioner or could not afford to pay the gap payment. An added benefit was the relief the service provided to the hospital emergency department by dealing with many of the sub-acute presentations that overwhelmed that service. It was rare to see a university department so involved with grass roots health care and community service.

In 2003 I became the dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University and again was able to appreciate the work of the School of Rural Health, albeit from a completely different perspective. I was most impressed with work that the school was performing. The undergraduate clinical medical training in rural locations was first-class, lauded by the students and reflected in their results. The research produced by the school was thorough, pertinent and insightful. On top of its excellent academic programs the school was well managed and administered, a situation of some consequence to the incoming dean! Again it was obvious that the School of Rural Health had embedded itself within the communities from which it operated, playing an integral role within the health care environment. These views were reinforced whenever I spoke to bureaucrats, community leaders or health service providers. The School of Rural Health was one of the jewels in the crown of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University.

More recently I have observed and been impressed with the growth of the school from my position of Vice-Chancellor at Monash University.

In the pages that follow you will read contributions from many authors that, when read together, provide a rich tapestry that tells the story of the school’s evolution. This is a history of a unit that has always been ahead of the game. Whether in rural medical education, research into rural health or advocacy for rural health issues, this school has consistently provided the ideas, applications and reviews that have resulted in templates for others to follow. These examples have been observed and applied both nationally and internationally.

The book includes a fascinating insight from the Centre for Rural Health’s founder, Professor Roger Strasser, into the ideas and events that culminated in the centre’s establishment. Roger writes of the underlying concepts and the activities the centre undertook in the 1990s. Many of the co-authors remark on his relentless passion for rural health issues and this is still remarkably evident in his writing in the first chapter.

Professor John Humphreys’s chapter on the history of research at the school is comprehensive and reflective of not only the unit’s output, but of the output of the entire sector over this time.

Professor Geoff Solarsh became head of school in 2004. Geoff led the school into another era as the regional clinical schools consolidated and an increasing number of undergraduate medical students received their clinical training under their care. Geoff’s important chapter details the changes during this time and events that culminated in the establishment of the Northern Victoria Regional Medical Education Network and the groundbreaking partnership with the University of Melbourne.

At the beginning of 2011 another important milestone was achieved when, under Professor Judi Walker‘s leadership, the Gippsland Medical School was amalgamated with the School of Rural Health. As originally conceived and established, Gippsland Medical School was in an ambivalent position in relation to the regional clinical schools in Gippsland and this move relieved the tensions generated by different approaches to rural medical education and competition for clinical places in Gippsland, paving the way for the next era in the School of Rural Health’s growth and development.

The thoughtful and considered contributions from people both internal and external to the School of Rural Health provide views from different perspectives and, together, a comprehensive narrative of the evolution of the school.

While celebrating what has been achieved and learning the lessons of history, current head of school, Professor Judi Walker, has written a final chapter that looks forward to an exciting future with a bubbling passion reminiscent of that displayed 20 years earlier.

Roger Strasser, John Humphreys and Judi Walker were part of the original group of like-minded clinicians and academics often referred to in Australia as the ‘rural health mafia’ due to their single-minded dedication to the cause. Monash University is proud of the School of Rural Health. This publication is an exceptional record, explaining how the school has evolved, and a worthy celebration of what has been achieved.

Professor Ed Byrne, AO
Vice-Chancellor and President
Monash University

Byrne, Ed. 2012. ‘Foreword’, in From a Brook Cupboard: 20 Years of Rural Health at Monash, edited by Clough, Robert. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing.

From a broom cupboard: 20 years of rural health at Monash University

   by Robert Clough, editor