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


Elyssia Bourke

Originally from Cardigan near Ballarat, Elyssia is a medical student currently on intermission as she completes a Bachelor of Medical Science degree. She is an Extended Rural Cohort student committed to spending five-sixths of her three clinical training years in rural areas. Her Year 3 was spent in Mildura then in Year 4 she spent one semester of rural GP training in Gisborne and one with specialist-based practices in regional Bendigo. Elyssia has held significant positions within Wildfire, including terms as secretary and co-president.

Mollie Burley

Apart from a four-year break, Mollie has been continuously involved with rural health at Monash since its inception. Mollie has worked on numerous education programs and research projects. Along the way she has developed expertise and passion for enhancing collaboration between health professions, with the aim of bridging the theory and service divide. Mollie currently leads the interprofessional collaboration team within the Monash University Department of Rural and Indigenous Health, and the Placement, Education and Research Unit at Latrobe Community Health Services.

Associate Professor David Campbell

After many years of involvement with GP training, David was first appointed as a 0.1 fractional-time senior lecturer in 1999. He later became the inaugural director of the East Gippsland Regional Clinical School, a position he still holds today. David is passionate about the virtues of rural clinical practice in the provision of health care as well as in undergraduate and postgraduate training. He has served many leadership roles outside Monash – the most recent being as president of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine – and has played a leading role on key committees and with the Rural Workforce Agency of Victoria. Along with leading the East Gippsland Regional Clinical School, David continues to practise as a GP in Lakes Entrance.

Dr Janice Chesters

Janice worked with rural health at Monash between 1999 and 2010, commencing as a lecturer and advancing to associate professor and acting director of the Monash University Department of Rural and Indigenous Health. During this time Janice worked on a wide variety of projects including the Master of Rural Health, developing rural aspects of the new five-year medical curriculum, the Building Healthy Communities Project and the Footprints Forwards Project that presented strategies for improving recruitment, retention and support of Aboriginal medical students. Janice is currently the director of Awhina, the Waitemata Health Campus, and an adjunct professor at AUT University Auckland, New Zealand. She pursues a conviction that the future of health care and health care education lies in close collaboration between health care providers, universities and other training providers.

John Clark

John hails from Donald, a community of 1700 people in Victoria’s north-west. After completing year 12 at Donald High School, he moved to Clayton to undertake the first two years of the medical program. He has spent a further two years completing clinical training in Mildura, Bendigo and Kyneton. John is currently studying for a Bachelor of Medical Science; he is working on a research project at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, but continues to maintain a rural interest as a National Rural Health Students’ Network medical representative and co-president of Wildfire. He will complete the final year of his undergraduate medical training in 2013, rotating through hospitals in Melbourne, London, Mildura and Bendigo.

Robert Clough

Rob was the manager of the Centre for Rural Health and the School of Rural Health from December 1998 to December 2010. During that time the organisation expanded from one primary site in Gippsland to eight major locations and 30 teaching general practices along a broad diagonal geographical slash: across Victoria from Mildura, through to East Gippsland. In that time staff numbers rose from 45 to over 320, while the expenditure budget expanded from around $2 million to over $30 million. Since leaving Monash, Rob has spent his time writing short stories and playing lawn bowls.

Adjunct Professor Marlene Drysdale

Recruited to establish and lead the Indigenous Health Unit in 2003, Marlene remained in this role until 2011. Under her direction the unit established and taught Aboriginal health subjects in all Monash’s Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences courses. The unit also performed important research, and advocated and facilitated improved pathways for Aboriginal students into health courses. Marlene is currently employed as the senior Aboriginal health training advisor for the General Practitioner Education and Training Program in Canberra.

Professor Elaine Duffy

Commencing in 1995 on a 12-month secondment, Elaine remained until 2003. She advocated strongly for a balanced emphasis in the organisation’s activities for nursing and the other non-medical health professions. Elaine held the position of deputy head for most of her tenure with rural health at Monash and became acting head on Roger’s departure. Elaine was the inaugural head of the Centre for Multi-Disciplinary Studies in Rural Health. She is currently head of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Griffith University in Queensland.

Emeritus Professor John S Humphreys

A geographer by training, John was Professor of Rural Health Research and head of the research unit at the School of Rural Health from 2002 until his retirement in 2012. During this time the organisation’s research output and reputation for academic rigour increased substantially. John has been recognised over the years through a number of awards, the most recent being an honorary fellowship of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine in 2010. These days John continues to be actively involved in research, as a chief investigator with the Centre for Research Excellence in Rural and Remote Primary Health Care, and in a number of his own projects. Any spare time created by his retirement is devoted to his family and pursuing his hobby of bird watching.

Dane Huxley

As the chief executive officer of the Mildura Base Hospital, Dane was approached to support the establishment of a clinical school in collaboration with his hospital. This began a long and fruitful relationship between Monash and Mildura Base Hospital that has seen the development of the clinical school and a number of multidisciplinary educational and research programs. Dane remains in his role with the hospital and is able to reflect on the advances that have been made.

Steve Kirkbright

Steve was with rural health at Monash from 1998 till 2006. He worked at various times as a project officer, lecturer, researcher and manager of multimedia and communications. His high quality graphic design skills created a ‘look’ that was instantly recognised and envied by those who encountered it through publications, posters, presentations and websites. He is currently working as a curriculum specialist at ERGT Australia, a safety training organisation.

Professor Peter O’Meara

Peter’s first involvement with the Centre for Rural Health was in the mid-1990s in his role as general manager of the Gippsland ambulance service when the two organisations worked together to integrate the role of ambulance service medical officer into the centre’s education program. He took up part-time employment with the centre in 1997 as a research assistant before later filling the role of full-time resources manager. Peter eventually moved to a full-time academic role, teaching within medical, nursing and rural health programs, as well as undertaking research. He completed his PhD examining rural ambulance services in Victoria during this time. Peter is currently the inaugural chair of Rural and Regional Paramedicine at La Trobe University in Bendigo.

Emeritus Professor Nicholas Saunders, AO

Nick was dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences from 1998 until 2002. This was a time of significant internal faculty change that included an organisational restructure and the introduction of a five-year medical curriculum. This period coincided with remarkable advances for rural health at Monash with recognition in the form of school status within the faculty and huge growth following the successful application for Commonwealth Rural Clinical School Project funding. Nick provided exceptional support and guidance for rural health during his time at Monash and even acted as head of school for a short period. In 2002 Nick was awarded the Centenary Medal from the Australian Government for his contribution to academic medicine. In 2012 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to medicine and higher education, and for his significant contribution to national academic and professional organisations.

Professor Geoff Solarsh

Geoff was recruited from South Africa as head of school in 2004 and remained in that position until 2007. This was a period of consolidation and refinement of medical education at Monash and the roles that the regional clinical schools performed. Geoff was also the regional director of the Bendigo Regional Clinical School and was pivotal in establishing the Northern Victoria Regional Medical Education Network – a collaboration with the University of Melbourne. Subsequently, Geoff stepped aside as head of school to concentrate on his role as head of the Monash University responsibilities within the network. Geoff continues in this capacity and as a paediatrician in Bendigo.

Dr Ryan Spencer

Ryan studied undergraduate medicine at Monash from 2002 until 2006. He grew up in Riddells Creek, on the train line to Bendigo, and became involved with Wildfire – the Monash University rural health club – while studying medicine. Through his role as the president of Wildfire he was involved in the roll-out of the new curriculum’s significant rural component. He spent two years of his undergraduate training in Bendigo and East Gippsland. Ryan is an advanced trainee in cardiology and recently returned to Bendigo as a cardiology registrar on rotation from Austin Health.

Professor Roger Strasser, AM

Roger was the founder and spiritual leader of rural health at Monash for the first 10 years, and it was primarily his vision, opportunism and enthusiasm that drove the organisation during that era. He was the first Professor of Rural Health and led the first academic unit of its type: the Centre for Rural Health. Roger left Monash in 2002 to become the founding dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, a position he still holds. In 2011, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to medicine. As an educator, researcher and practitioner Roger has improved health care for people living in rural and remote communities in both developed and developing nations.

Dr John Togno

A strong advocate of the virtues of immersion in rural practice in undergraduate medical training, John was an early recruit to the Centre for Rural Health. He had established the Primary Care Clinic in Bendigo within the Monash Department of Community Medicine, but his vision was more closely aligned with the Centre for Rural Health following its establishment. The clinic became part of the Centre for Rural Health a short time later. John was the leader of the medical education stream during the development of the five-year medical curriculum and played a significant role in infusing a strong rural flavour into it. John is currently a GP in Bendigo and a medical educator in an Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine pilot program.

Adjunct Associate Professor Jo Wainer, AM

Jo was involved directly with rural health at Monash from 1997 until 2010. Jo’s interest in gender and medicine was expressed through her research as well as curriculum development and teaching. She also played central roles for the organisation in strategic development, research leadership and executive committee involvement at various times. In 2010 Jo was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the community as an academic and researcher of women’s reproductive health rights, and through leadership roles promoting women in medicine, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Professor Judi Walker

Judi became head of the School of Rural Health at Monash in November 2010. Her credentials include vast experience in the development of academic rural health in Australia. She has witnessed the development of rural health at Monash and had working relationships with many of its members, long before her commencement. Judi’s knowledge of the school’s past and its people, coupled with an understanding of the environment in which it operates, ideally places her to lead it towards an exciting future.

Robert Wells

Robert Wells is a former first assistant secretary in the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing where he was involved in research policy, Commonwealth/state relations, health workforce, rural health programs, safety and quality as well as programs for better management of mental health and major diseases such as cancer and diabetes. He managed the Commonwealth’s health workforce programs from the early 1990s and left the department in 2004. Currently Robert is the director of the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute and the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the Australian National University.

Adjunct Professor Gordon Whyte

After 12 years as head of the Red Cross Blood Bank, Gordon’s desire to try something different led to his appointment as the first director of the Bendigo Regional Clinical School in 2001. Gordon’s understanding of systems engineering proved invaluable, not only in establishing the clinical school in Bendigo but later for the faculty, in installing their medical course in Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates, and then in curriculum design and implementation at Monash. Gordon had a short stint as head of school in 2003 then came back as head of school from the beginning of 2008 until late 2010. Gordon recently retired from paid academic service but continues to feed his thirst for knowledge through Master of Arts research into the history of clinical reasoning.

The Hon. Dr Michael Wooldridge

Michael was the federal Minister for Health from 1995 until 2001. During his time in office many innovative rural health initiatives were introduced including the John Flynn Scholarship Scheme, the University Departments of Rural Health Program and the Rural Clinical Schools Program. These programs had a profound effect, not least on the evolution of rural health at Monash. Michael is currently an adjunct professorial fellow at Monash University and chairs two cooperative research centres at the University of Melbourne.

Di Wyatt

Di was the manager of the Victorian Department of Human Services’ rural health unit during the early and mid-1990s. She became the executive director of the Victorian Universities Rural Health Consortium later that decade, worked with the Monash School of Rural Health as director of business and development, and then in international development in the early 2000s. Di currently works for the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine as strategic projects manager.

Clough, Robert. 2012. ‘Contributors’, 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